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Hyde Park On Hudson (12A)
Apollo, Piccadilly
13th January 2013

★★★☆☆

Anyone reading a brief synopsis of this film, then glancing at the star rating, could be forgiven for thinking this biopic of US president Franklin D Roosevelt is another Lincoln. Put simply, it isn't. Whereas Lincoln was a largely intellectual, slightly stuffy and sentimental period piece, Hyde Park On Hudson, like FDR himself is considerably more eccentric.

Ostensibly a love story (or lust story, at least) between FDR (Bill Murray) and his six-or-seventh cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney), Notting Hill director Roger Michell and writer Richard Nelson just don't make it that simple. Perhaps they didn't think the two strong leads of Linney and Murray would be enough, so they threw in a subplot in which King Bertie (Sam West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) beg the president to help them out in World War Two. What follows there is a Wodehousian comedy of manners, with Colman's disgusted face getting a staggering amount of screen time.

Of course, the broad comedy antics of Rhys Ifans worked to boost the dull, plodding Hugh Grant and cardboardy Julia Roberts in Richard Curtis' much-loved flick. But Nelson ain't no Curtis and the result here is a jumbled film that pulls in all directions, only staying on course in patches by Murray's trademark watchability.

His FDR, rather than the sarcastic, broken man he's become famous for playing, is enigmatic, a little magical and charming to a fault. But he's also deeply flawed and rather manipulative - a presidential Patrick Bateman or Keyser Soze. He's not evil, though, just harangued by his overbearing mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and trapped by his own love of the ladies. With odd false teeth jutting out from his perma-grin and crippled by polio, he's no less believable than Daniel Day-Lewis.

And it's the comedy subplot that does considerably better than the doomed romance here. West and Colman, having to grovel and put up with their uncouth American cousins while Roosevelt attempts to have them loosen up, is great in its own right. West's just the right side of vulnerable and, frankly, blows Colin Firth out of the water - especially in a scene where the King and President open up to one another over midnight drinks. Colman's disgust is palpable at the concept of having to eat hotdogs and jettisoning (the admittedly very good) Laura Linney while expanding the farce would have made this a four-star comedy.

We understand why Linney's Daisy would want to be with FDR. The audience likes him too. But his betrayals and their eventual arrangement, while true to life, just don't carry enough emotional heft to make us care.

One thing it does have in common with Spielberg's historical release is its vibrancy, colour and scene-setting. Technically it's fairly pedestrian, save for a number of shots framed by doorways and windows, giving the whole thing a hint of the conspiratorial and a few pull-back and reveal gags are done well. When on the road with FDR, the beautiful landscapes are eye-popping. When at Hyde Park On Hudson, the opulent surroundings are perfectly realised.

The early December US release date seems to suggest the producers were hoping for some sort of Awards nod - and undoubtedly more than the one Golden Globe win (very fairly, for Colman) and nomination (for Murray) that it did secure. The dumping ground of January and February for a lot of the rest of the world also indicates they quickly lost faith in it when they saw the quality of Oscar contenders. It's certainly not good enough to warrant the former, and not bad enough to deserve the latter. Much like the mishmash of tones in the film itself, no-one seemed to know quite what to do with it and, unfortunately, it shows.

Hyde Park on Hudson was released in the UK on 1st February 2013.

Nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly, Bakerloo)



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