A few months back, Hyde Park on Hudson looked like a premium slice of King’s Speech-style Oscar bait. Then the trailer hit, and its awards chances looked somewhat slimmer. This morning I attended a screening of the film, and if the Academy decides to reward this lacklustre exercise in dreary historical drama then I may have to take a year away from the race altogether.
There are three sides to the film: love story, historical drama and comedic farce. Of all of them, only the latter succeeds in its limp attempts to bring a fresh spin to the presidential/royal biopic by focusing on one weekend in the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt during a pre-WW2 visit from the King and Queen of England. Naturally comparisons to My Week With Marilyn have been thrown around, but where Marilyn had a glittering performance from Michelle Williams, Hudson only has the drab Laura Linney; a shadow of her normally excellent self, bogged down by a character completely devoid of personality. Consequently I spent much of the screening wishing for someone to blow the cobwebs away and inject some much-needed life into proceedings. Clearly no one was listening.
A lot of the film’s problems lie within the relationship between Bill Murray’s Roosevelt and his cousin/lover Margaret (Linney). For a start there is little spark between these two fine actors, both of whom are normally so consistently good yet fail to convince here as a credible couple. I didn’t care for either of them, individually or together, and things only worsened with the introduction of Roosevelt’s other lovers, forming an unsavoury harem of over-the-hill women laying down their lives for the gratification of this lecherous old man.
Meanwhile Roger Michell’s treatment of the story does the film no favours. His reliance on narration from a husky voiced ‘old-lady’ Margaret is the embodiment of lazy storytelling and frankly quite nauseating. Just as his lack of faith in the film’s more comedic moments, which do actually work, leads to yet more lifeless drama and bogus love story. It’s the filmmaking equivalent of loading your pockets full of rocks and jumping off a bridge.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but the comedy, which does run fairly consistently throughout the film, shows how good Hudson could have been. Olivia Colman and Samuel West are brilliantly funny playing English monarchy out of their depth, torn between national pride and a desperateness to be liked by their American cousins. Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt also presents a great opportunity to exploit for a host of humorous moments, yet she is given barely a thing to work with. Here is where Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson should have focused their energy. I truly feel the film would have soared as an all-out farce, leaving the feeble attempts at insightfulness and complexity at the door. Better still, the story is one that would translate nicely to the stage, where broader strokes and a greater sense of fun could take the edge off the film’s drearier moments. As it stands however, Hyde Park on Hudson is just not worth the bother.