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Hyde Park on Hudson is like custard. The historical drama is lightweight, attractively presented, and perfectly pleasant but not particularly memorable. Bill Murray steals the show with a jolly rendition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who hosts King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for a weekend at his country estate in Hyde Park, New York. Also present are Eleanor Roosevelt and the President's dueling mistresses, Daisy Suckley and Missy LeHand, and Hyde Park on Hudson is part tawdry melodrama. Director Roger Michell lenses some beautiful shots, but at times films with daring irreverence for the characters, which gives the film an uneven tone. Hyde Park on Hudson depicts an amusing moment in history of only moderate consequence, and the film is similarly frivolous.
Murray clearly enjoys inhabiting the wheelchair and spectacles of the 32nd president, and brings the same twinkle-eyed mischievousness on display during his impromptu volleyball games and gopher-hunting expeditions. FDR's sassy, aging mother Sara (Elizabeth Wilson) calls upon relatives to cheer up her overworked son, and Daisy (Laura Linney), a fifth or sixth cousin, answers the phone, travelling to Hyde Park for an awkward re-introduction. Hyde Park on Hudson moves swiftly during its awkward first minutes, and Daisy is whisked from feigning interest in FDR's stamp collection to getting handsy in a Ford Phaeton. A lot of the vitriol thrown at Hyde Park on Hudson concerns these opening scenes, and I sympathize. Michell clumsily establishes a sexual relationship between Daisy and her president cousin, and the whole affair is off-putting.
The tremendously more enjoyable center of Hyde Park on Hudson concerns the 1939 royal visit to FDR's estate, where the King hopes to drum up U.S. support for Britain in World War II. George (Samuel West) and Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) arrive, flustered and self-conscious, and fear FDR's casual conversation and wit are thinly veiled taunts. This is the same stuttering, sympathetic Bertie from The King's Speech, but Elizabeth is far less amicable than Helena Bonham-Carter's version. The Queen's face is stuck in a horrible grimace for much of the film, and she chokes back bile when Eleanor (Olivia Williams) requests to use her first name. Elizabeth is understandably weary as the king's shepherd, and Hyde Park on Hudson takes place just months before the world went to war a second time.
Daisy is unhappy when Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), a longtime aid to FDR, explains the president's wandering ways, and demands to know his intentions. The president responds with child-like wonder, explaining his affection for Daisy without accepting fault for her heartbreak. Murray is a jovial ringmaster here, mixing gin for the King to spite his mother and apologizing to the Queen for his wife's overbearing presence. The film's best scene takes place in FDR's study, where he and Bertie share several late-night drinks and discuss their wives, pressures and hobbies as old friends. If Hyde Park on Hudson had more genuine scenes like this and less of the unpleasant pulp, like when Daisy finds Missy in her love-shack bed, it would have been a better film. A late-game scene where Daisy again attends to a hot dog, this time belonging to the King, is also cringe-worthy.
Michell, who directed Notting Hill and Changing Lanes, films without fear of sullying the reputations of his characters to mixed results. Hyde Park on Hudson is both refreshingly frank and overly gossipy when it switches to historical mudslinging. At barely 90 minutes, this is a lean, unassuming film that never tries to tackle the more weighty history that came after. Michell has a keen eye for composition and staging, and much of Hyde Park on Hudson is quite beautiful, especially the fields of wildflowers and hills surrounding FDR's estate. The supporting performances never match Murray's, but Linney does her best with a peculiar character. The royal couple is quite enjoyable, and Wilson's scenes as Mrs. Roosevelt are quite funny. Hyde Park on Hudson is a minor diversion, but Murray is an American treasure.
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is strong, and displays exceptional detail and texture (Just look at those stamps in FDR's collection!). Michell boosts the contrast significantly, which creates blown out whites and some unnaturally bright outdoor scenes, but the transfer deftly replicates the director's intended look for the film. Wide shots stretch for miles, and close-ups reveal intimate facial details. Black levels are good, with only minor crush inside FDR's study, and I noticed no compression artifacts, artificial sharpening or banding.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is subdued but appropriate for the material. Dialogue is crisp, clear and balanced appropriately with score and effects. Ambient effects, like crickets and wind, are nicely integrated via the surround speakers, and the LFE supports the film's limited action effects. English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Universal/Focus release Hyde Park on Hudson in a not-altogether-necessary combo pack that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film, and codes to redeem iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include an informative if somewhat dry Commentary by Director Roger Michell and Producer Kevin Loader. The Deleted Scenes (6:55/HD) are forgettable, as is A Look Inside Hyde Park on Hudson (4:00/HD), which is little more than an expanded trailer. This disc's best extra is the audio-only First Days (13:50/HD audio), where Michell relays his thoughts and preparations for the first shooting days.
Bill Murray is a charming, wily Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, which presents dueling stories of a royal visit to FDR's estate and the domestic drama caused by the president's mistresses. The former is entertaining but the latter is awkward and somewhat distasteful. Supporting performers Laura Linney, Samuel West and Elizabeth Colman are good, but Murray steals the show with his unpretentious portrayal of the flawed president. Hyde Park on Hudson is a modest historical drama that leaves little impact. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.