The music’s the best thing about the peculiar, demurely prurient “Hyde Park on Hudson,” starring
as his spinster fifth cousin, Daisy Suckley. Setting the scene, and the mood, for this anecdotal account of FDR’s pre-war sexual escapades one weekend in 1939, composer Jeremy Sams soaks the movie in a sly and charming recurring theme, a
rather like a buttoned-down variation on the famous aria from Bizet’s “Carmen.”
It's lovely. But it isn't enough to lift this middlebrow, middleweight and middling project, adapted by dramatist Richard Nelson from his 2009 radio play, above its misjudgments and limitations.
Not that any writer owes us verifiable truth in the guise of drama, even when events can be verified, but here are the true bits in “Hyde Park on Hudson”: Months before
In 1991, when Suckley died, correspondence and journal entries revealed her clandestine relationship with FDR, an intimate and sexual one to a degree we’ll never know because she didn’t grind through the details. Nelson’s radio play, and screenplay, attempts to treat that weekend in the country as easygoing bedroom comedy, with just enough drama to make sense of the characters involved. The clucking royals (
Linney’s performance is essentially voice-over work: Narrator Daisy talks a lot about her role in the events, both as insider and outsider. But the role itself never comes to life as a living, breathing, active participant, despite Linney’s skill. Murray offers some fine and crafty detail work as FDR, even if he struggles to capture the vowel sounds and the moneyed patrician quality of FDR’s public image. (He’s the reason to see the movie, despite the problems.)
And now for the sex act, arriving, abruptly, 15 minutes into “Hyde Park on Hudson.” It’s destined to be this minor picture’s major talking point. FDR is out for a drive with Daisy, and he waves his security detail away so they can be alone, amongst the wildflowers and the breeze. After some hesitation she obliges the president with manual stimulation, which rocks the car a bit but is filmed from a careful and discreet distance. (It’s actually a ridiculous reason to slap the movie with an R rating; in Canada, the ratings for the movie have ranged between G and