Posted Friday, May 18, 2012, at 5:41 PM
Bill Murray as FDR in the new trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson
Hyde Park on Hudson became an intriguing movie the moment Bill Murray was cast as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sure, other excellent actors appear in the film, also playing interesting parts: Olivia Williams joins her Rushmore castmate as Eleanor Roosevelt, Laura Linney is Roosevelt confidante Margaret Suckley, the soon-to-be better appreciated (I hope) Olivia Colman is Queen Elizabeth II. (Samuel West, who plays the famously stuttering King George VI, is new to me.) But it's not a great surprise to see any of those talented actors in such roles. Murray as FDR, on the other hand, teases one with possible revelations—about Murray as an actor, of course, and maybe even about FDR as a figure in the popular imagination.
After watching this trailer, however, I am dialing down those expectations a notch. Murray looks fine here, if not revelatory. But he's drowned out by the surrounding cacophony. The movie focuses on the first visit of a reigning English monarch to the United States: War with Germany was on the horizon, and so the King and Queen visited Roosevelt for a weekend at his upstate New York home to lobby for American support. The movie appears to tackle the "special relationship" of the U.S. and the U.K.; the role of a president as compared to the role of a king; the rise of the modern media and its changing relationship to power; and, you know, World War II.
One movie that comes to mind while watching this trailer is My Week with Marilyn, which similarly depicts a brief period that a relative unknown (in this case, Linney's Margaret Suckley) spent with an icon (and also considers the two nations divided by a common language). But giving us the main story at one remove risks clouding the picture. And, in the case of Hyde Park on Hudson, this risk is compounded with another: crowding the frame with too many larger-than-life figures (FDR, Eleanor, Elizabeth, George VI). Just as Friends With Kids presented a rom-com corrollary to the "too many superheroes" problem, Hyde Park on Hudson suggests a biopic variation of that dilemma.
I'm still curious to see what Murray does with the role, and I hope the movie brings more attention to Colman. But I won't expect any grand reimagination of Roosevelt—just the latest interesting turn from the best of the excellent Murray brothers.