Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Hyde Park' Has Murray Going for It

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

'Hyde Park' Has Murray Going for It

Article excerpt

"Hyde Park on Hudson" is about a time "when the world still allowed itself secrets," specifically the secret that President Franklin D. Roosevelt carried on a long and intimate relationship with his distant cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.

The original archivist for FDR's presidential library, Daisy left behind a treasure trove of letters and diaries after her 1991 death that revealed the deep nature of the friendship, which many have conjectured contained a sexual element. This correspondence formed the basis for a nonfiction book by Geoffrey Ward, a play by Richard Nelson and now this film, also penned by Nelson.

Bill Murray, who bears not even a passing resemblance to Roosevelt, is nonetheless convincing in the role of a great man who was also a supremely talented politician, playing the people around him like well-tuned instruments. Murray's FDR knows his powers of persuasion, using his blueblood sense of entitlement and patrician charm as tools to quietly command those in his sphere, despite a body crippled by polio.

But this story is really Daisy's ... or at least it should be.

Daisy is an aging spinster trapped by familial obligations who's all agog to receive a surprise invitation to visit the president at his ancestral home in upstate New York. He asks about her limited travels and the places she'd like to go, and Daisy admits, "To be honest, I'd love to go just about anywhere." Any opportunity to get out of her drab life of near-poverty, caring for her sickly aunt is a boon.

Laura Linney plays Daisy in a subtle, passive performance in which her character mostly reacts to the people she encounters. She serves as the audience's eyes and ears, and for the longest time we almost forget she's there, like a hostess who shows you around but isn't really part of the party. The president's servants and guardians -- often one in the same -- soon come to regard her as part of the decor, and accept her closeness to him as a matter of course.

Was theirs a relationship of passion, or simply a deep and abiding companionship? Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Nelson are coy to the point of obduracy. After a brief fleshly encounter, Daisy comes to see FDR as her closest friend -- indeed, her only one. …

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