Presidents are big at the box-office this season: there is, of course, Oscar favorite and critical darling Lincoln from Steven Spielberg. A number of “documentaries” (and I use that term loosely) on President Obama made by right wing (ahem) propagandists have also found enough Tea Party patrons at the box-office the last few months. And now we have Hyde Park on Hudson, a movie about the country’s longest serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is really not about his four terms as President or any of his major legislative achievements.
It is, instead, about how the women in his life (including the First Lady, First Mother, and – for lack of a better euphemism – First Mistress) all conspire to make a visit from the British royals an event FDR was guaranteed never to forget. It’s a bit of a con, really, because we know what we’re watching is based more on fanciful conjecture than anything that may have happened in real life. It is also based largely on the idea that women in subordinate positions of power are by their very nature scheming creatures who get their jollies against men and each other by concocting grand schemes that primarily make the female gender look like a weak and sniveling group of insecure loons (just like the very makers of all those anti-Obama documentaries).
Then there is FDR, played with randy raucousness by Bill Murray, who seems less concerned withe the serious business of governing than he does with entertaining his genitals with the loose hands of his mistress and distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). To be fair, this is a movie set over a single weekend, and it’s more about a social call than about wonky policy issues, so it behooves us not to take it or the man so seriously. But then the movie (as handled by director Roger Michell) plays all the characters as more caricatures than people, especially the women – and this includes the Queen of England who seems positively the snoot of all snoots as played by Olivia Colman. This makes it difficult to enjoy or even want to watch, since the movie seems to forget the golden rule of movie making: print the legend, not the history. We like our presidents, monarchs, and heroines to be worthy of the elevated status we give them, whether they deserve it or not.
Hyde Park on Hudson fails miserably on this account.