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TELLURIDE, Colo. — Roger Michell‘s Hyde Park on Hudson, a new dramedy inspired by real events that stars Oscar nominees Bill Murray as U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Laura Linney as his distant cousin who became his mistress (and a witness to history), had its world premiere Friday at the Telluride Film Festival’s outdoor screening area. The film looks good, generated chuckles in all the right places, and received polite applause at the end, but my hunch is that it and those associated with it — with the possible exception of Murray, who shines in a mostly serious performance — will ultimately prove too light and slight for Academy members, who tend to demand more gravitas than this film possesses.
Apart from a brief sequence that recounts the origins of Roosevelt and Stuckley’s relationship, the film unfolds over one week in June 1939 — or, as the film describes it, “a time not so very long ago, when the world still allowed itself secrets.” King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (Olivia Colman) — that’s right, the same couple who were at the center of the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech (2010) — become the first British monarchs to visit America, anticipating the outbreak of war in Europe and hoping to win the support of America. The royal couple stay with Franklin and Eleanor (Olivia Williams) at the president’s retreat in Hyde Park, New York — which is actually owned and run by his elderly mother. Over the course of their short and often awkward visit, the leaders and their wives learn about and largely come to accept each other’s flaws and imperfections.
Oddly, the film is in some ways helped and in other ways hurt by the inevitable comparisons that it elicits to The King’s Speech. Both films provide humorous and moving history lessons about the rocky runup to World War II. The earlier film is much more polished; the later one benefits tremendously, however, from the audience’s existing knowledge of the Brits’ personalities and inter-personal dynamics, not to mention, of course, the king’s stutter. Indeed, the most stirring and moving scene of the film involves a tipsy, frank conversation between the aging president and the young king — the former of whom had five sons, the latter of whom never really had a father — in which Roosevelt comforts him: “We think they see everything that we are — our flaws, our transgressions, our failures — but that’s not what they’re looking for.”
Murray, who looks quite a lot like FDR when his hair is greyed and he flashes a big toothy smile, is as likable as ever in the part, even if his character often behaves like a heel. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he winds up with his second best actor Oscar nom. (He was previously nominated nine years ago for Lost in Translation.) It’s worth noting that Peter O’Toole earned a trip to the Oscars in that same category for his portrayal of a frail but still lustful old man in Michell’s second-to-last film, Venus (2006).
Linney, on the other hand, is overqualified for her part; she is one of our most talented and intelligent actresses, but in this film has — thanks to the extremely passive nature of her character, who really doesn’t bring that much intelligence or personality to the table — relatively little to do. The same can be said of Williams, who also happens to be far too attractive for her part. West and Colman, meanwhile, provide most of the film’s levity through their out-of-touch banter, but I can’t imagine Academy members concluding that their work is meaty enough to merit nominations.
Sometimes a film — even one that plays the fall film festivals before hitting theaters — can be well made and provide good entertainment, but still not attract much awards attention. This may be such a film.
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