Movie Review: Hyde Park on the Hudson

There is no shot I can recall of the Hudson River, sad, because the view of the river from Hyde Park is quite lovely.

The back story, part 1: The movie Hyde Park on the Hudson is based on the papers of some fifth cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When she died at the age of 100 or so, it was revealed that FDR and Daisy had had a sexual and emotional liaison.

The back story, part 2: My family went to Hyde Park just this past summer, which is largely why The Wife and I decided to see this film this past Saturday, at the Spectrum 8 Theatre. The room was about 2/3s full.

The strength of this movie is in many of the details that it gets right, in no small part because it was filmed, in part, at Hyde Park. The look is right. The controversial anti-British cartoons after the War of 1812, which were on the bedroom walls when King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth, mother of the current monarch, came to visit in 1939, I have seen. It was the house of FDR’s mother (played by Elizabeth Wilson), and that Eleanor (Olivia Williams) was very uncomfortable being there was an open secret. The press was aware of Franklin’s physical limitations and yet didn’t report it.

One of the unfortunate aspects concerning the movie is that it came out after The King’s Speech (2010) and the characters of the monarchs will inevitably be compared with that movie, unfairly, since George’s stutter is only part of the story here. And this Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) was at least as good as Helena Bonham Carter.

It took a while for me to forget that it was Bill Murray as FDR, and while he didn’t mimic the 32nd President, FDR’s essence eventually came through. My favorite scene involved just Franklin and George (Samuel West).

Casting trivia: Elizabeth Marvel plays Missy, a major role in this film, and she’s good; she also played the minor part of Mrs. Jolly in the 2012 film Lincoln.

An odd choice: there is no shot I can recall of the Hudson River, sad because the view of the river from Hyde Park is quite lovely.

The real flaw of the film, though, is that the presumable core story, the relationship between FDR and Daisy, isn’t all that well-drawn, or interesting. Laura Linney, probably the greatest living American woman on film today not named Meryl Streep, is wasted here; her character is a cipher.

This is a small movie, mostly focused on one weekend in June of 1939. As a Presidential buff, I enjoyed enough of it that I’m glad I went, but it is by no means a great movie.

Q is for Q&A about FDR

Eleanor Roosevelt was a distant cousin of FDR. She was “given away” by her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt.


The family was in the Mid-Hudson area of New York State back in August. We were on the west side of the river, when we crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge from Highland to Poughkeepsie.
Q: Wait, it’s now the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge. When did THAT happen?
A: The bridge was renamed… in 1994 though the span is rarely referred to by its official name.
Q: And why is it named for him anyway?
A: “Governor and local resident [FDR] and his wife Eleanor attended the opening ceremony on August 25, 1930.”
Q: And I mention this all because…
A: We needed to cross the bridge to visit Hyde Park, the location of the longtime home of the 32nd President of the US. It’s just five miles north of Poughkeepsie.
Q: So is the town or the FDR estate called Hyde Park?
A: Well, the town is, but the estate was.

“Dr. John Bard had called his estate ‘Hyde Park’ in honor of Edward Hyde, who was Lord Cornbury and Governor of New York.” A tavern owner named his business ‘Hyde Park Inn’, then “applied for a post office to be located at his Inn, which was nothing unusual. The request was granted as the ‘Hyde Park Post office’… the Post Office’s name was ‘Hyde Park’, and thus residents’ mailing address was ‘Hyde Park’…the settlement’s name [was changed] from Stoutenburgh to Hyde Park officially in 1812.”
Q: And the estate of FDR.
A: Springwood is the site of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site maintained by the National Park Service.
Q: What else is there?
A: Usually, the Presidential library – the first one designed by a sitting President – and a museum. The bad news is when we were there, they were under renovation. The good news is if we go back after June 2013, we can visit the refurbished buildings for free with our already purchased tickets.
Q: Why was the place so special to him?
A: It was his boyhood home, and it had (has) a spectacular view of the Hudson River and beyond.

Q: He got married to his cousin?
A: Eleanor Roosevelt was a distant cousin. She was “given away” by her uncle, Theodore Roosevelt on March 17, 1905, after which he went to attend a St. Patrick’s Day parade, taking about a third of the guests with him.
Q: Did Eleanor like Hyde Park?
A: Springwood was still her mother-in-law Sara’s home. And Franklin was very devoted to his mother. She preferred her own place, Val Kill, a couple miles away.
Q: Franklin had an affair with Lucy Mercer, and Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce. Why didn’t they split?
A: From here: “Sara… said that if he left his wife she would cut him off without a cent. Louis Howe, Franklin’s trusted adviser, said that a divorce would mean the end of his political career. So Franklin agreed to stay in the marriage under two conditions set down by Eleanor: he had to break off with Lucy Mercer immediately and for good, and he could never again share his wife’s bed. Franklin observed the second part of the agreement. How long he kept the first has been a matter of some scholarly debate.”
Q: When did FDR develop polio?
From here: “In 1921, when he was 39 years of age, [FDR] contracted an illness…. The symptoms gradually resolved except for paralysis of the lower extremities. The diagnosis at the onset of the illness and thereafter was paralytic poliomyelitis. Yet his age and many features of the illness are more consistent with a diagnosis of Guillain–Barre´ syndrome, an autoimmune polyneuritis.”
Q: How did he able to hide his ailment?
A: When he had to stand, he would, literally, lean on his son. He used leg braces to try to strengthen his legs. But mostly, he hid the fact that he could not walk, with collusion by politicians and the news media. It was said that his affliction made him a much more compassionate man.

Learn more about FDR HERE and HERE, among other places.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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