Telluride: “Hyde Park on Hudson” with Bill Murray as FDR

“Hyde Park on Hudson” depicts the 1939 visit from the King and Queen of England to the family home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in upstate New York to build up US support for Britain in the upcoming war with Germany. It was the first-ever visit by a reigning British monarch to the Western Hemisphere.

The Royals were the stuttering King and his spouse depicted in “The King’s Speech”. Due to polio Roosevelt has lost movement in his lower body and uses a wheelchair, a condition hidden from the general public.

Bill Murray gives a charismatic performance as FDR, showing his charm as well as his subtle manipulation of everyone around him. Murray said that “Roosevelt is the most formidable character I’ve been asked to play, and this story that I hadn’t known about showed his personal side.”

FDR’s fifth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) is invited by his mother to visit the president to help him forget “the weight of the world” in the ominous situation in Europe. While riding with Daisy in a car set up so that he can drive with just his hands, he waves away the secret service. They begin a love affair. 

Laura Linney and Bill Murray in “Hyde Park on Hudson”

Laura Linney gives a performance of deep feeling, sensitively conveying Daisy’s growing emotional attachment to Franklin and her pain in discovering she’s not alone in the President’s affection. He’s described as a man who “lives for the adoring eyes of young women.”

As the Royal visit approaches, life at Hyde Park, the Roosevelt home, becomes more hectic. Director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”, “Changing Lanes”) maintains a lively pace for the film. The actors create distinctive characterizations. Though FDR is President, his mother Sara is definitely in charge at Hyde Park. The President even asks the servants not to let his mother know that he plans to serve cocktails to the King. Veteran actress Elizabeth Wilson (“Nine to Five”) is a formidable presence as the dominating Presidential mother.

First Lady Eleanor (Olivia Williams. “Ghost Writer”) lives at a separate residence, but is staying at Hyde Park for the King’s visit. She has a quick sense of humor. Eleanor has planned a picnic for their Royal visitors. The President’s secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel, “The Bourne Legacy”), also plays an influential role at Hyde Park. 

When the Royal couple arrives, the King, nicknamed Bertie, (Samuel West, “Notting Hill”), is open-minded and insecure about his stutter. Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman, “Iron Lady”) is pretentious, snobby and indignant that she’ll be served something called a “hot dog”. King and Queen remain bemused at the goings on at Hyde Park.

A scene where the President and King bond over their physical infirmities is particularly effective and well-acted.

The screenplay was written by playwright Richard Nelson who received a Tony Award for the book of “James Joyce’s The Dead.” Rather than probing deeply about major historical figures, “Hyde Park on Hudson” is an engaging and frequently amusing social comedy about a crucial cultural clash with important ramifications.

Nelson said the film was inspired by the contents of a suitcase found under Daisy’s bed after she died at age 100 – Daisy’s intimate letters to and from her cousin Franklin as well as her diaries recording in detail their relationship that had remained a secret.