Remember all that excitement you had watching the riveting political drama “Lincoln?” Between Steven Spielberg’s reverential directing and Daniel Day Lewis’ amazing performance, the film felt like a loving tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the most exciting history lesson ever and a serious award contender in every year-end category.
Then we have Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” a similarly historical piece on arguably just as important a president that replaces captivating political wheeling and dealing with tedious jaunts to the countryside in a film so devoid of any spark that it feels like watching someone’s boring vacation videos.
Michell, who you’re likely most familiar with from his 2002 minor hit “Changing Lanes,” explores the relationship between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a woefully miscast Bill Murray) and his distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley (Laura Linney). It’s the kind of plot that sounds easy to make sensational like it’s ripped from a TMZ headline, but we get very little controversy and even less excitement.
Linney is one of those immensely reliable actresses who can make even the smallest role better for her casting, but she has so little to work with in Daisy, a painfully uninteresting character who feels shoehorned into the film despite being the narrator.
Richard Nelson’s screenplay fails to make her more than a passive observer leaving Murray to carry the film, but Murray never won me over in the role and felt more like a re-enactment than a performance.
Take a quick look on YouTube to see actual clips of FDR. Murray gives it his best effort and he sorta looks the part, but his portrayal just isn’t convincing enough and he’s lacking that “commander-in-chief presence.” Check out Jon Voight’s FDR in “Pearl Harbor” for a more authentic and commanding take.
Nelson writes the affair so matter-of-factly that there’s little passion, conflict or anything interesting between FDR and Daisy even when FDR’s wife, Eleanor (an enjoyable Olivia Williams), appears. This is one of the driest films featuring an illicit affair I’ve ever seen and Michell does little to spice things up, presenting it just as dull as Nelson writes it.
There is some spark courtesy of Samuel West and Olivia Colman as King Bertie and Queen Elizabeth, who travel to upstate New York to try to get the U.S. backing as the Allied forces brace for World War II. West and Colman make Bertie and Elizabeth interesting enough that Nelson would have been better suited just writing the film from their perspective.
Linney gets one scene to show some emotion from Daisy, but it’s here and gone so quickly that it hardly seemed worth the effort.
Nelson wants to paint this quaint picture of a little-known look at one of America’s most important presidents, but fails in making it more than a boring history lesson. Skip this unless you’re into films with characters you could care less about and a story even less engaging.
Rating: 2 out of 10