Murray delivers convincing portrayal of FDR

Focus Features photo by NICOLA DOVEBill Murray plays Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. Murray is nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical for his role in the film.
Focus Features photo by NICOLA DOVEBill Murray plays Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson. Murray is nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical for his role in the film.

Reviewer's Rating: ★★

Speaking in character as Daisy Suckley, Laura Linney narrates Hyde Park on Hudson, a jumble of history and philandering involving of the most powerful man in the world.

Daisy is the poor-relation fifth cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She’s also his mistress. Make that one of his mistresses.

Linney delivers her Hyde Park on Hudson narration with a verbal wink and nod. She smiles a Mona Lisa smile off camera, speaking soft and low as she lets the audience in on her secret. Yes, she was the president’s lover. My, my. Linney’s affected narration filters in and out of a wobbly story about Suckley’s apparent affair with the president and the first visit to the United States by a throne-sitting British monarch.

In June 1939, Roosevelt, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the president’s controlling mother, Sara, and the domestic staff at the Roosevelt home in upstate New York are preparing to welcome Britain’s king and queen.

Bill Murray, looking very much like the president who led the United States through much of the Depression and World War II, gives a charmingly convincing performance as Roosevelt.

But it’s too bad the film isn’t more about Roosevelt and less about Suckley. It’s also unfortunate that Murray isn’t playing the president in a better film than Hyde Park on Hudson. If there’s a great script featuring Roosevelt out there somewhere, Murray earns first shot at it.

Hyde Park on Hudson is most alive and effective when Murray’s Roosevelt and Samuel West’s King George VI retreat from the women in their lives and talk man to man. Of course, George VI, aka Bertie, is the same stuttering monarch portrayed by Colin Firth in 2010’s The King’s Speech, the film that Hyde Park on Hudson emulates.

The king and president engage in touching, enlightening conversation in Roosevelt’s library, a room that also serves as the president’s office while he’s in Hyde Park residence. The scene stands so far above much of the rest of the film as to not even belong in this slight, 95-minute movie.

Hyde Park on Hudson, written by the Tony and Olivier award-winning Richard Nelson and directed by Roger Michell (Venus, Notting Hill), strikes a self-congratulatory tone, as if Suckley’s presidential affair was a precious, long-hidden secret that only now can be revealed. On the contrary, it’s a story, at least in this realization of the story, not worth repeating.