Two new movies, “Lincoln” and “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” are intimate portraits of the two most consequential presidents of the United States. They are timely reminders that politics has never been pretty and our leaders have never been perfect human beings, but that, without
“Lincoln” is such a stunningly good movie that I have already seen it twice.
Not unlike 2012, politics in the 1860s was polarized. There was no Internet or cable news, but there were multiple newspapers in even small towns, most as partisan and spoiling for a fight as
For those who still cling to the idea that collegial bipartisanship is the best way to achieve good government, this movie is a reminder that politics has very seldom been so cordial and clean. Lincoln saved the union, freed the slaves and became the most revered of America’s presidents by compromising when needed, forming convenient alliances with men who were not his friends and knowing when to seize the moment, play hardball and display a will of steel. Show him a
“Hyde Park on the Hudson” is a much more slight movie. It tells the story of a single weekend in the 1930s when the king and queen of England paid a visit to President Franklin Roosevelt at his family home in the New York countryside. Bill Murray does a good job portraying FDR, but does not inhabit the man the way Day-Lewis transformed himself into Lincoln. Still, the film offers vivid insights into the private life of the president who saved the nation from collapse during the Great Depression, prosecuted the
As the movie shows, Roosevelt's achievements emanated from a curiously complex household. He had mistresses who were permanent and simultaneous in-house companions. The first lady had her own separate accommodations and her own intimate female friends. And all of this was hidden from public view. Hidden, too, with the complicity of the press, was FDR's severe disability. An aide would carry the president to his car in full view of news photographers, but no picture would be taken until Roosevelt had composed himself and raised his confident grin to the cameras.
The media were far most constrained and compliant in Roosevelt’s time than in either Lincoln’s era or our own. At the end of “Hyde Park on the Hudson” I wondered whether FDR’s political career could have survived exposure of his personal relationships and the ravages of