Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Olivia Williams, Elizabeth Wilson, Martin McDougall
Written by: Richard Nelson
Directed by: Roger Michell
MPAA Rating: R for brief sexuality
Running Time: 94
Date: 08/31/2012

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Roosevelt's Retreat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's not going too far to suggest that Bill Murray deserves to be mentioned among the greatest comic actors in cinema history. Admittedly though, the idea of him playing Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, is not very funny. But in Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, FDR becomes a most amusing -- as well as sad and searching -- Murray-like character.

Hyde Park on Hudson takes place mostly over the course of one weekend, in June of 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited America. And, yes, this King George is the same stuttering "Bertie" character that Colin Firth made famous in The King's Speech, now played by Samuel West.

The story is told from the point of view -- and is based on the letters and diaries -- of "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), who was FDR's fifth (or sixth) cousin and became very intimate with him during this time. The movie hints at a sexual and/or romantic affair, but -- as in Murray's Lost in Translation -- it focuses more on the concept of longing rather than on payoff. 

Linney's Daisy is a quiet type, content to disappear into the background, but standing in deep awe and admiration of her new confidant. She complies when his schedule, as well as his marriage to Eleanor (Olivia Williams), prevents him from spending time with her, but her face reveals how much she misses him.

It's not quite the power partnership shown in the recent Hitchcock, but their scenes together are sweet and tender, nonetheless. The key moment, however, comes when FDR, with his polio and useless legs, and Bertie, with his stutter, share late night drinks and conversation in FDR's study. These two world leaders talk about women, power, physical disabilities, perception, and other topics that slowly reveal how wonderfully fallible and human they both are.

Director Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) and screenwriter Richard Nelson don't really tie the royals' visit into Daisy's story, but they instead weave a certain spell, a kind of collective held breath and raised tensions wherein secrets that might normally be kept may slip out. Yet the many moments of refreshing release also make it a breezy, carefree experience.

Perhaps it all works thanks to Murray. In a most presidential mode, he creates tension and then effortlessly diffuses it. He's also a great comedian, working the room and turning everyone around to his side. He's got my vote.

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