Watching Bill Murray play Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one wonders why they didn't just hire Kevin Kline. Kline's easy, shallow Manhattanite manner could have done justice to the conception of FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson: a colorlessly suave man shadowed by a ruthless personal life (he juggled mistresses) and surrounded by forceful, domineering women.
The occasion is a visit from the king and queen of England in 1939, with Samuel West as the stuttering George VI, subject of The King's Speech. He and his queen (Olivia Colman) come for an uncomfortable visit to a Dutchess County house unsuited for royals. The uncertain king gets a boost from FDR's world-famous ability to inspire confidence; the warmest scene is a late-night meeting of the men.
This very odd film tries to leech away some of the myth of FDR, and it uses the least interesting person in the room as the entry point, FDR's cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), whom he seduces with banal authority. First Roosevelt shows her his stamp collection; then he takes her for a country ride, parks, clasps her hand and puts it in his lap.
FDR may not be a demigod, but this cutting down to size (especially given Linney's meek, slightly bewildered performance) isn't edifying or informative. She narrates, so we hear all the details of her heartbreak when she realizes she's been fed a well-used line by a powerful older man. And as an actor, Murray can't do what he does best—exude the air of falseness and dubiousness.
Hyde Park is a privacy-invading movie, yet it doesn't make its point about how the lack of privacy keeps us from having the leaders we might have had. It also says FDR spurned Eleanor (nicely played by Olivia Williams), but considering Eleanor's lack of enthusiasm for sex, we might have seen his side of it. And the way the film poster sells this story as a naughty comedy is the last straw.
'Hyde Park on Hudson' is showing at Summerfield Cinemas (551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa, 707.522.0719) and CinéArts Sequoia (25 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley, 415.388.1190).