More human than historic, it’s a landslide victory
In 1939, on the eve of war in Europe, the parents of the current UK monarch made the long haul from London to a small town in upstate New York. It was the first state visit a British monarch would ever make to the US and, despite relaxed appearances, was perhaps the most crucial in history. Intending to win American support for the fight against the Nazi scourge, the chronic stutterer King George (West), the very same recently portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, is caught between pleasing his rigidly traditional wife and befriending the ostensibly laid-back president, Franklin D Roosevelt (Murray). We enter into this strange world via Daisy (Linney), who as FDR’s distant cousin, is summoned by the president as a friend and confidante. In the process, she becomes a little bit more.
Despite lacking an outward likeness to FDR, Murray portrays the character with nuanced perfection, effusing the role with an effervescent charm and instant likeability, and the film is really all his. While foremost a drama, there are moments of genuine comedy and Murray serves both seamlessly. The tone is light, and while we barely hear words like ‘war’ or ‘Nazi’, one or two choice moments such as the appearance of Hitler’s face on a German stamp remind us of the stakes at play. At one such point, in confidence, FDR tells Daisy: “If we don’t help them, there might not be an England to be king of”, and so it goes. While the context is war, this is a gentle film that’s primarily concerned with cultural contrasts over conflicts.
This, and films like it, functions on our fascination with those public figures whose faces we know so well, but whose private lives will always remain a mystery. It’s fascinating therefore, for us to have our own preconceptions of kings and presidents forcibly challenged and particularly so here, where we get to see them navigate their own preconceived ideas and fears about each other and themselves. After Spielberg’s Lincoln, Eastwood’s J Edgar, Stone’s W and a host of others, here’s a presidential biopic that dares to omit all that political fire and brimstone and emerges all the more enjoyable for it.
Hyde Park on Hudson (11)
Dir: Roger Michell; US comedy/drama, 2012, 94 mins; Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman
Premiered June 20
Playing at Grand Teatret, Dagmar and Gentofte