Bill Murray is a modest marvel as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson," all subtle gestures and small movements, with a toothy smile and just a hint of Locust Valley Lockjaw. Charming and utterly convincing, Murray's FDR is the opposite of Leonardo DiCaprio's overintense Hoover in "J. Edgar," and a worthy runner-up to Meryl Streep's Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
If only "Hyde Park on Hudson" were equal to Murray's performance. It's a lopsided drama that has a few captivating moments but -- unlike its polio-stricken hero -- can't muster the strength to stand on its feet.
This portrait of FDR is painted by his mistress, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley (Laura Linney), a distant cousin summoned by the President in the summer of 1939 for company, conversation and something more. While Mrs. Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) turns a blind eye, shy Daisy is awed to find herself helping host a visit from Queen Elizabeth and the stuttering King George VI (Olivia Colman and Samuel West, both wonderful) that could decide America's role in the coming war. What follows is a desultory combination of upstairs-downstairs culture-clash (Elizabeth is revolted by American hot dogs), backroom politics (George and Franklin size each other up over Scotch) and forbidden romance (Daisy moons for the President, literally, by moonlight).
Director Roger Michell ("Morning Glory") finds glimmers of beauty here and there, but the main problem is Daisy, a wan, passive figure with an irritaingly girlish demeanor (Suckley was past 40 then, about the same as Linney now). The movie seems to love her, but we never learn to. Like Daisy, we'll always have Murray's FDR, but he deserves a better vehicle than "Hyde Park on Hudson."
CAST Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
BOTTOM LINE A thoroughly winning performance from Murray against a richly detailed period backdrop, but the anemic script bars this movie from the heavyweight division.