Setting his sights squarely on the middle English (and middle American) ageing folk who made ‘The King’s Speech’ such a monumental moneyspinner, ‘Notting Hill’ director Roger Michell delivers a spry, slick look at the complicated love life of US president Franklin Roosevelt. It’s a softer, slighter film than ‘The King’s Speech’ but a more complex and restless one, too, preferring a subtler, more shaded take on the tricky realities of power over fist-pumping feelgood antics.
Bill Murray plays Roosevelt, the myopic wheelchair user and stamp collector entirely controlled by the women in his life, notably his domineering mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and sexually ambiguous wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams). We see Roosevelt through the eyes of his shy, demure fifth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), with whom he embarks on a turbulent affair, all the while dealing with an official visit by stammering English monarch George VI (Samuel West) and his devoted wife Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman).
‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ never really slots into top gear, but it’s a pleasurable enough watch: Murray effortlessly holds the centre, but there are valuable turns from Linney, quiet and self contained; Colman, all quivering upper lip and wounded English pride; and Williams, clearly relishing the chance to dominate proceedings. The script is dotted with humorous asides and moments of likeable slapstick, though the dramatic passages don’t fare so well, and none of it has any real weight.
But Michell’s refusal to take the easy, sentimental route pays dividends: given Roosevelt’s iconic image (he’s as revered by the American left as Churchill is by the British right), there are some surprisingly unsympathetic moments: one scene in a bucolic clover field will have the old dears choking on their lemon sherbets. It all leaves ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ feeling somewhat uneven and ultimately underwhelming, but there’s plenty to admire and enjoy here nonetheless.