When HYDE PARK ON HUDSON opens, it would appear as though director, Roger Michell is determined to make a stately biopic of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. He has all the right components in place, from the romantic score, to the poetically paced narration, to casting pedigreed actors for the plum parts. And just when you think you know exactly what Michell has in store for you, he has Roosevelt drive off into a secluded field so his sixth cousin can give him a hand job, good and proper. How’s that for presidential?
Rather than tell a straight forward biography of Roosevelt, screenwriter, Richard Nelson, opts to focus on some of the time the President spent at his mother’s home in Hyde-Park-on-Hudson, New York, with particular focus on the weekend that King George VI and his Queen, came to visit America with their hands out. If you don’t know the history, the details are revealed subtly and with patience, from Roosevelt’s drinking habits, to his extensive philandering, to his wife’s proclivity for the same sex. The royal visit brings all of these eccentricities (or social atrocities, if you’re royal) into the light, which makes for some great laughs. At some points though, it isn’t clear whether Michell is just having fun or rather having fun at the President’s expense.
A biopic of this nature is first and foremost about the man embodying the subject. In this case, this is Bill Murray, and Mr. Murray most certainly holds his own. He may not always have a lot to work with but he handles the complexities of the character so well, that he blends seamlessly into the part, as if he were sitting in Roosevelt’s own skin. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON may not go too far past the surface but, thanks to Murray, its surface has a smooth finish.