Sometimes a combination of different genres and styles can be a good thing for a film. Not being pigeonholed can increase intrigue and stave off disinterest. Django Unchained is a perfect recent example. However, Django knows exactly what it wants to be and sticks to it throughout. The problem with Hyde Park on Hudson (a world away from Tarantino’s film, I know) is that it never really knows what it wants to be and ends up meandering around without committing to one style or the other.
The story focuses on US President Franklin D Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his love affair with distant cousin Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), referred to as Daisy, during a visit by the King and Queen of England to his country estate in Hyde Park, New York.
The synopsis puts the film firmly in the ‘drama’ category as does its opening. However, when Daisy suddenly gives FDR a handjob in the front seat of his car, things take somewhat of a bizarre turn. Prepare for many an odd sideways glance. All of a sudden, it wants to throw in some comedy. But then it’ll take it away again. Continue ad infinitum. The fact that it never settles for either prevents you from ever really investing in the story and is little more than confusing. It’s never dramatic enough for a drama nor funny enough for a comedy.
Another of the film’s issues is that its main story arc isn’t even the most interesting one. FDR and Daisy’s relationship is never explored in a meaningful enough way to care about and there is little to no development of either character. Instead, the royal visit of King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) is much more interesting and makes for an infinitely more engaging storyline. Both West and Coleman are very good in their roles, providing some of the more humorous moments on offer. However, both Linney and Murray don’t bring enough to the role match their British counterparts, although this is as much the fault of the largely poor script that too often champions adultery and subservient female roles.
HPoH is all about ‘special relationships’ but the one between Britain and America may stick in the throat of some Brits. Whilst healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, there seems to be none of that here and both British monarchs are frequently undermined and belittled. King George (or Bertie as he’s known) is presented as a bumbling, childish fool due to his stammer and inexperience as King and is often patronised by FDR. The (less than subtle) suggestion that the helpless British came grovelling for help from Uncle Sam to help them in World War II is also presented in rather a demeaning fashion.
With some films, it’s easy to say that they could have been so much more and how they could have been improved. However, to do that with HPoH would take almost an entire deconstruction of almost every element of the film. It’s an uninteresting story, many of the characters are unlikable and some of the directorial and script choices are lamentable. The film is based upon journals and diaries of Suckley’s that were discovered under a bed after her death, and perhaps some things should remain hidden.