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Saturday 10 December 2016

Clunky script hides a great president

Hyde Park on Hudson (12A, general release, 95 minutes) Director: Roger Michell Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman

Paul Whitington

Published 01/02/2013 | 18:00

Though crippled by childhood polio, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was of an amorous disposition and enjoyed a rich and complex private life.

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His marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt was famously and splendidly unconventional: in later years they didn't share the same house, never mind a bed, and she had a horror of heterosexual sex that left FDR free to woo the ladies in his own inimitable style.

His affairs form a racy backdrop to this rather frenetic and half-arsed period drama.

In June of 1939, the newly crowned King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth came to America at the behest of their government to try and drum up support in the US for what looked like an inevitable conflict with Nazi Germany.

The number one target for their charm offensive was of course FDR, and during their visit they journeyed to upstate New York to stay at the Roosevelts' estate, Hyde Park.

This film imagines the encounter between the laconic and charismatic President and the shy and awkward Bertie, whom regular cinemagoers will have already been introduced to in The King's Speech.

That meeting should have been the primary focus of Hyde Park on the Hudson, but strangely enough isn't, because Richard Nelson's script is based in part on the private journals of one Margaret Suckley, who may or may not have been one of his covert sexual partners.

Margaret is living with her mother in genteel poverty when the call comes from Hyde Park that the president needs another secretary.

According to this film, almost as soon as she turned up old FDR played his hand, taking her for a spin in his jalopy and having his wicked way. In a scene both comical and oddly solemn, the camera cuts to a long shot just as Margaret begins to pleasure him, and the 32nd President's head bobs gently up and down.

All of which is no doubt fascinating, and there certainly is a great movie to be made about Roosevelt, a brilliant and fascinating man.

Only this isn't it, and by choosing to lend equal weight to FDR's supposed dalliances and his masterful leadership on the eve of the Second World War, Hyde Park on the Hudson has created an unseemly and irrelevant pantomime.

Utterly miscast in the lead role, Bill Murray strikes familiar poses but does not give us a believable human being, and is not helped by a trite and clumsy screenplay.

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