1. Everything about Hyde Park on Hudson feels like it's taking place in a wax museum. Actually, that's not giving it enough credit: It's more like the Hall of Presidents robotic displays at Walt Disney World.
That's it. This is a movie that wants to tell the story of the time when Franklin Delano Roosevelt hosted King George and Queen Elizabeth on the eve of World War II at his famed estate in upstate New York, but doesn't have an ounce of curiosity about any of the events or the people who made the trip. This is fiction filtered through a vague historicity. This movie doesn't tell us anything about FDR or the king or anyone who knew them. It doesn't tell us anything about anyone.
2. It's strange, because the two main characters of Hyde Park on Hudson are oddly peripheral to their own story. FDR, played by Bill Murray of all people, hosts the royal brigade while carrying on an affair with his fifth cousin Margaret (Laura Linney), and he has to balance the slapstick family matters at home while the Brits come hat in hand, looking for help against the Germans. Ostensibly, this could be a comedy of errors set against the backdrop of looming history—people deciding the world's future while being unable to keep their own house in order. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't do much with either the historical storyline or the human one; the movie just sort of sits idly by as everyone walks from room to room, being "respectable." It puts a bunch of famous people in a room but never gives them anything to do.
3. One of the movie's main issues is Linney's character, who is summoned to Hyde Park to serve as FDR's mistress and confidante. That FDR has affairs is hardly a state secret, and people weren't even particularly shy about it then, at least not anyone who worked for the man or knew him. Weirdly, though, Linney's character is completely dense to this, and she seems to take FDR's requests for "long car rides" (real and euphemized) at face value, as if he were a young suitor vying for her hand. That her character would be so stupid, and grow even stupider as the film goes along, stretches credulity to the breaking point. By the time she's throwing a fit and confronting FDR as King George and Queen Elizabeth stare on from a window, you'll wonder what planet this woman is on; you know there's a war going on, right, Margaret? The real Margaret Suckley was 48 years old when the events of this film took place, but if this movie is to be believed, she had the emotional wherewithal of a 13-year-old girl. The whole Margaret storyline is a miscalculation, and you can make a strong argument the movie would be improved considerably if it simply cut her out.
4. That would give more time for the scenes between FDR and King George, which are the heart of the film. The scenes are charming, but it's of note that the two leaders never actually talk about anything; they're too busy being "iconic" to get into the messy details of war and global politics. To take this movie at face value, the U.S. joined World War II because FDR sort of saw King George as a son, because they made each other laugh, and because they both liked the same sort of Scotch. It's fun to humanize historic figures, but we still need to see them doing, you know, the things that made them historic figures. Apparently, all FDR did was make jokes and look winsome in glasses, and all King George did was stutter when you brought up his brother.
5. The movie's not a total disaster, if just because of Murray. He's barely in his own movie—the movie honestly has nothing to say about FDR at all—but he's still charming anyway. That's his only job, to be charming. He never illuminates FDR because the movie never asks him to. You'll still love watching him. But this feels like a rush-job slapped together from a stage play to draft off the success of The King's Speech. (Samuel West does an adequate job as King George, but Colin Firth is far too prominent in our memories to cut him much slack.) The movie is all setting, nothing but plates and countrysides and old cars and absolutely nothing to say. It's a real snore.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.