Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Hyde Park on the Hudson, featuring comedian Bill Murray as FDR, opened in theatres in the US this fall.  This is not a grandiose epic historical film like Lincoln, but has a narrower focus on the significance of interpersonal relationships.  This film was greeted by modest box office receipts and no Academy award nominations.  While not a great film by any means, it does not lack historical interest or charm.

The film is set in the summer of 1939, before the start of World War II in Europe and before Pearl Harbor.  It chronicles the relationship between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, played by Laura Linney, and the relationship between FDR and King George VI (of The King's Speech   The film concludes with King George VI, played by Samuel West, bravely sacrificing his dignity and eating a hot dog in front of the world press at a summertime picnic in update NY.

Commander K. with FDR + WSC
Bond Street, London
FDR was a vain man, a complicated man and an unfaithful husband.  His devastating bout with polio crippled him physically while strengthening his capacity for empathy and his indomitable will; it also, however, increased his need to deceive the public about the nature and extent of his disability.  He was surrounded by powerful opinionated women like his domineering mother and his proto-feminist wife Eleanor.  He escaped their clutches in the company of willing ladies such as Lucy Mercer, Marguerite LeHand, "Daisy" Suckley and, perhaps, even Princess Martha of Sweden who found refuge living in the White House during World War II!  Who would have suspected that a man disabled by polio could get around so much?  FDR was a philandering philatelist -- "don't you want to come over here and admire my beautiful stamps?"  Both Lucy Mercer and "Daisy" Suckley were with FDR in Warm Springs, GA on the day that he died.

In Hyde Park on the Hudson we see a fragile President of the United States being carried around his house by his handlers in order to receive his royal visitors.  In a memorable scene FDR, played, by Bill Murray is able to drive a specially designed hand-operated automobile (a 1936 Ford Phaeton).  FDR sheds his secret service detail and puts the car in park in a lovely country meadow while Laura Linney, for her part, displays her own talents for digital manipulation of POTUS.

This is not a fairy tale romance.  Linney's Daisy is accommodated and learns to accept a position in the Presidential harem.

In 1939 King George VI, Elizabeth II's father, was a young monarch with a stuttering problem who had unexpectedly become King on his brother's unexpected abdication.  He initially lacked confidence in his kingship and he sensed, correctly, that his Empire was on the verge of a devastating war for which it was unprepared and would require American assistance.   King George VI's visit in 1939 marked the first time that an English monarch had ever visited the United States of America  (

FDR strikes up a warm fatherly relationship with young King George VI over their country weekend in upstate New York.  America will support Britain in the war to come in spite of the isolationism espoused by so many Americans.

Would Edward VIII have been such a sport?
The course of history is often shaped by chance and the success or failure of interpersonal relationships.  Imagine a counter factual history without Wallis Simpson where King Edward VIII had visited FDR at Hyde Park.  Would he have eaten a hot dog at a picnic or bonded with FDR?  How might this have affected the course of the Second World War?  The friendship between FDR and George VI marked the beginning of the "special relationship" between Britain and the USA and prefigured the close but uneasy relationship between FDR and Churchill in the war.  It is ironic to note that this relationship was launched with the consumption of a German snack food -- the Frankfurter.

Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor had six children with FDR
One mild casting complaint/observation is that the British actress who plays Eleanor, Olivia Williams, is much more attractive than the historical first lady.  Much of Hyde Park on Hudson was filmed on location at FDR's New York home (

Commander Kelly says, "Stamp collecting can be a very rewarding hobby and be sure to check out Hyde Park on the Hudson!"

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