Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Mitchell, 2012) 3/5
Generally speaking I recoil at the use of metaphors but in this case I think its apt. If you picture Roger Mitchell’s film, which outlines the special relationship between Great Britain and the USA just before the outbreak of WW2 as a meringue then you may just bear it. For those expecting the dramatic chops of The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2011) look away now, as you won’t find it here. Anyway back to the metaphor. Although looking pristine on the outside with the sun drenched American countryside and the meticulous period details, the film lacks emotional depth. Leaving us with a hollow shell of what could have been. At times, the jaunty atmosphere of the characters within the house almost verges on as a caricature of a Carry on film.
What occurred to me when I was viewing this at this year’s Brighton Film Festival, is that I could not stop thinking that this was a TV movie. Indeed, if say, this was made by HBO in the same vein as Mildred Pierce or John Adams then it would have been a great success, then the producers would have been able to span the visit over a mini-series and properly deal with the themes in the narrative. Alas, it was not and what is left is a simplified and squished historical account in 95 minutes. I was not alone in this summation as many who stayed around after the screening at the Duke of York’s felt the same. Most commented on the bravura style of the cinematography and the musical score with great gusto, however what lacked was the emotion of the characters. Indeed, Jeremy Sams score holds the film together and surely will be in contention for an Oscar nod.
The whole film is told from the point of view of FDR’s distant cousin Margaret Suckley (portrayed by Laura Linney). Constructed around her diary entries, the film tracks the intimate relationship between her and the president. However, what becomes confusing is that we are shown events that she wasn’t even a part of, forcing her character to wander aimlessly from room to room throughout the house. Indeed, when the King and Queen of England come to Hyde Park, this is where her character is further pushed to the side-lines. However, through this opens up two great performances by Samuel West and Olivia Coleman. Their interactions with each other are the highlight of the film, especially when they discuss the foreign aspects of the ‘hot-dog’.
In spite of the negatives of the film, the performances are great. Laura Linney, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams stand out in their respective roles. However, it is just a shame that the script limits their character development and, indeed, screen time. As such, what could have been a great film (meringue) is only a good one.
By Ben Taylor