Murray’s FDR breathes life into flabby period drama

 
Steve Dinneen
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FILM
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Cert 15
***

Bill Murray sits at the centre of this flabby period drama like a grotesque but lovable toad in a dangerously shallow pond.

Hyde Park on Hudson follows the budding sexual relationship between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Murray) and his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley during the visit of King George VI to the US.

Murray portrays FDR as a generally likable sort with the faintest hint of something more sinister lying deep beneath. While it is hardly the performance of his career, he dominates the screen, often to the detriment of the supporting cast, who appear half-formed by comparison.

The film’s biggest crime is failing to make enough of Murray – for a story that centres on the illicit relationship between the married FDR and Daisy, it makes little effort to understand or explain his motives. What could have been a striking portrait of a charismatic but troubled man instead unravels into a comedy of manners, gently ribbing the prim English and their quaint, stuttering King.

It speaks volumes that the central dramatic conceit doesn’t concern FDR’s sexual peccadillos, nor George VI’s quest to gain US support for the upcoming war, but on whether the King will eat the hotdog he is served at a picnic (a metaphor for the conflict between new and old that becomes increasingly strained the longer it is played out).

Hudson will inevitably be compared to The King’s Speech, with Bertie and Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) once again playing central roles, and it will inevitably come out second best.

It is all very pretty, with plenty of lingering shots of flower-laden fields, but in the end it feels far too parochial – smashed crockery and belligerent mothers in place of drama or enlightenment.