Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) ***

R, 94 min.
Director: Roger Mitchell
Writer: Richard Nelson
Starring: Laura Linney, Bill Murray, Samuel West, Olivia Coleman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson
Perhaps I’m just a sucker for backstage historicals, but I’m not sure why the majority of audiences and critics upon its release readily dismissed the film “Hyde Park on Hudson”. It is not a great film, and it’s possible people wanted it to be because of its subject matter. With the recent Oscar winner “The King’s Speech” revealing an aspect of history of which many Americans were previously unaware, it’s possible people wanted this film to reach for that one’s greatness. It doesn’t even try, but that’s part of its charm.

Inspired by letters from FDR’s distant cousin and mistress Margaret Suckley, “Hyde Park on Hudson” really tells two stories. One of how the love affair between FDR and Suckley came about. The other is about the historic first-ever stateside visit by a king and queen of the United Kingdom. On the verge of World War II, King George needed America’s support to help him build support in his own country. His brother Edward had just abdicated the throne and his stutter presented an immense PR problem for the newly crowned king.

It’s obvious from my synopsis that the historical aspect of the film interests me much more than the romantic. This might be another area where critics found fault upon its theatrical release. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the romance side of the story. I think most people would like to believe FDR was not a man that had such weaknesses as affairs and such, although it was not exactly a secret at the time. Unfortunately, the fact that FDR’s mistresses were omitted from our high school history books isn’t nearly as fascinating as the fact that this strange meeting between two heads of state, the first ever “Special Relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, is so little mentioned. I suppose even to those who witnessed it, it probably didn’t seem like much of an important affair. Much is made of how casual the whole affair was, which the Brits might’ve taken as an insult.

Still, this type of backroom history just thrills me. Bill Murray and Samuel West are wonderful as FDR and King George respectively. The script might seem slight considering the importance of this meeting in the grand scheme of World War II, but then it was perceived as slight at the time. It was artful, subtle politics. Those are the best kind.

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