Friday, 1 February 2013

Hyde Park On Hudson (12A)

And so, following hot on the heels of President Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt is brought to life in Hyde Park On Hudson - or, King's Speech II: Driving Miss Daisy, if you will.

Billed as the previously untold story of FDR with his mistress/cousin (at least fifth, so that's OK), and culled from letters found after Daisy died, Hyde Park On Hudson is weirdly both more AND less than that.

Because, while the "love" story is there, lurking in the shadows like a fifth cousin no one is supposed to know gave the president a hand job in his car, we also have Bertie and Queenie visiting the presidential homestead ahead of the outbreak of World War II.

And this is where things get complicated.

First, let's look at the positives. The performances can't be faulted. Bill Murray is great as FDR - acting with his eyes and face, given the president was unable to walk following a bout of polio. Olivia Colman and Samuel West take their turn as the royal couple, and manage to step out of the hefty shadows cast by Helena Bonham Carter and Colin Firth in The King's Speech. Olivia Williams is good as Eleanor (the woman the president is supposed to be legally sleeping with), and Laura Linney is fine as Daisy, the other other other woman.

It just all feels muddled and a bit light-weight.

Given the story came about from Daisy's stash of love letters and diaries, it seems odd that we don't actually get a clear picture of who she is, or why she decided to stick around as one of FDR's harem. She's portrayed as being shy, socially awkward, a bit wet and unsure of her place in the entourage, and FDR is certainly not a man to issue gushing sentiments of love and desire, so already the relationship seems off kilter.

Equally, FDR isn't painted as a man who commands sexual attraction - especially as his mother seems to be doing the matchmaking.

The relationship seems to be one of convenience - as in, it's convenient for everyone else.

And all of this is played out over the weekend of the royal visit. And not just any visit. Bertie was charged with getting America on side as that Hitler chap set his sights on taking over Europe.

And this, for me, is the actual story here.

It's got a clearer identity, it's better portrayed, and garners better performances from those involved (Murray's late-night chat with West is a great moment).

Questions of how Daisy knew anything about any of these events, given she was either at home with aged aunt or mooning about in the woods at night, are best left unasked. Presumably writer Richard Nelson did some research away from Daisy's scribblings, but one is still left thinking the rows in the royal quarters are the figment of his imagination.

It's almost as if he purposefully took the Queen's character in the opposite direction from HBC's portrayal just for the sake of being different rather than any actual historical accuracy.

And as the film progresses, we still don't know what the story is here - a love story or a political drama? Neither gets enough clarity or weight, and so we are left looking at the scenery.

It's as if Mr Nelson figured we knew who these famous people were, so there was no need to flesh out their characters. A simple sketch was deemed sufficient.

He was wrong.

Like I said, you can't fault the actors - they've done a good job with what they were given. They just needed more.

And so do the audience.

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