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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Gossipy trivialisation of a key historical moment

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Film review: Hyde Park On Hudson

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The increasingly popular old fogeys’ historical oeuvre has as its goal the sweetening of times past and, rather presumptuously, the sharing of intimacies with the leading figures of the period at which we are invited to be sticky beaks. A common by-product is the reduction of the giants who strode the world’s political stage to the status of moral and intellectual dwarfs.

Alas, it is the case with Bill Murray’s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in this sweet and inconsequential frippery that too often looks like a photo shoot for the pages of a 1930s Vogue.

It is a laudable thing to humanise those whom we might otherwise only know from dry archives and annals, but it is another thing altogether to present them out of the context that made them who they were. Roosevelt is invented as a man distracted by the demands of his dowager mother (Elizabeth Wilson) while primarily concerned with mixing a stiff cocktail and indulging in extra-marital shenanigans. Were it not for the brilliantly coy performances of Samuel West and Olivia Colman as King George VI and Elizabeth (the Queen Mother, as we knew her), the British royal couple is seen as little more than blithering idiots, and only scant regard is shown for that most intriguing character, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Such gossipy trivialisation is probably due to the fact that the script has been written from the point of view of the narrator Daisy (Laura Linney), a fifth cousin who had with FDR a lifelong but not very passionate affair – it is this lack of passion that gives the film its curiously vapid atmosphere. Linney is her usual sad-sack self and Murray, a most self-conscious actor, is unable to create any sense of presidential magnetism, with there being no indication that Roosevelt might have been consumed by pesky affairs of state – this at a time when America was still not emerged from the Great Depression and, in Europe, Hitler and the Nazis were beginning their terrible rampage.

A nice movie, but hollow.

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