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Review: The presidential merits of ‘Hyde Park on the Hudson’

The Sessions wasn’t the only film released this awards season that deals with the sexual activities of a person with polio, but it handled the sex a lot more sympathetically than Hyde Park on the Hudson does. This could have been titled Handjob on the Hudson if it focused fully on the relationship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his distant cousin Daisy Suckley, played by Laura Linney, whose casting might cause one’s expectations of the film to exceed its merits. In fact, their relationship is secondary to the depiction of FDR hosting the king and queen of England at his Hyde Park estate in 1939.

One of the film’s merits was giving Bill Murray a shot at the role of FDR. Murray doesn’t quite inhabit the four-term president. It’s physically demanding of him, but the role doesn’t call for much psychological complexity. His FDR seduces Daisy in much the way Paula Jones described Bill Clinton’s come-on technique — whip it out, see what happens — and is clearly used to successful results. It’s not long before he sets her up with a domestic situation that will allow her to observe the visiting royalty.

With World War II approaching and FDR holding all the cards, stammering King George (Samuel West) and uptight Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) are extremely anxious and prone to taking offense. The queen is especially aghast upon hearing that hot dogs in buns will be served to the king, not seeing the symbolic significance that dining on iconic American food will have on the then-chilly relations between the two countries. Whether director Roger Michell saw the significance between the hand-held experiences FDR provided for both Daisy and the king is not readily apparent. The lack of a role for Linney to display her acting chops is apparent, however. For history buffs only.