Film: ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ (2012)

Focus Features

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the U.S., would have liked nothing better than to spend all his time at the family home at Hyde Park on Hudson which belonged to his mother, an archetypal lunar figure whose main reason for existence is to nurture. Not surprisingly, in Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” which debuted at the New York Film Festival, a bevy of mothering, caring females hovers around FDR like a caressing, full-moon night light.

The movie, set in 1939, explores several Lunar themes. FDR’s (Bill Murray) mother likes to invite female relatives to the compound to help take her son’s mind off his demanding mental duties. The result is that Daisy (Laura Linney), a spinster distant cousin with a disposition that’s had the life sucked out of it, becomes a regular visitor to their home.

In FDR’s presence, Daisy’s caring nature becomes animated and vibrant. In turn, POTUS enjoys what the movie suggests is an affectionate and borderline-intimate relationship with her, even as Daisy seemingly vies with Missy (Elizabeth Marvel), another FDR staffer, for the man’s attentions.

“Hyde Park on Hudson”’s more unexpected exploration of the maternal is through the visit of the King and Queen of England, the first time in U.S. history that reigning monarchs visited this country. With the war looming, King George VI (Samuel West) was eager to discuss the political situation in Europe with FDR and potentially secure the President’s support during the mayhem that was sure to come. In a sudden and exhilarating twist, the wheelchair-bound potentate becomes the maternal figure, soothing the anxiety-fueled stuttering king. Then, by calling attention to his own crippled condition, FDR creates an egalitarian relationship with the U.S.’s former ruler.

The movie’s strongest Lunar impact, though, is tied to the U.S.’s July 4th birthday in the Moon-ruled sign of Cancer. “Hyde Park on Hudson” moves from personal character exploration – possessive Daisy’s ultimately makes peace with FDR’s other nurturing females, including FDR’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) – to collective assessment of the true nature of the U.S., whose fate is enmeshed with FDR himself. As his mother says, Everyone wanted something from him.” And true to the Cancer-born country he ran, FDR gave.

The movie’s only fantasy element is the full-Moon sky during the royal couple’s Hyde Park visit over Saturday June 10th and hot-dog-picnic Sunday on the 11th. Historically, a full moon overhead was not part of that weekend’s celestial scenery. But Michell’s filling the sky with this fictional Lunar presence was creatively spot-on. His embellishment underscores both Daisy’s emotional transformation, as well as this Cancerian country’s pivotal and visionary wartime role. Lunar-inspired.

Rating: ☽ (Moon)

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