Apparently Franklin Delano Roosevelt's polio paralysis didn't include everything below his waist. At least that's the impression left by Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, which paints the president as a horn dog in chief, carrying on with cousins, married women, anyone except his wife Eleanor, who prefers the company of "she-men." This isn't Lincoln, by a longshot.
The intimate information is conveyed through the diaries of Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, a mousy cousin to FDR who became his lover and confidante, as confirmed by his letters to her. She isn't the first family member asked by the president's mother to "take his mind off his work." Michell gives this TMZ material the old Masterpiece Theater touch, with trysts among wildflowers, gauzy sentiment and hushed passion.
Daisy is played by Laura Linney as pale, lovesick and so introverted that she practically blends into the walls of FDR's Hyde Park estate in upper New York. She is so meek and innocent that Roosevelt's overtures feel like watching a sexual predator at work, bringing her closer by offering to show his stamp collection, later directing her attention to his lap.
And who is that behind those pince-nez reading glasses, cigarette holder clenched between his teeth? Why it's Bill Murray, admirably imitating FDR's physical characteristics if not his distinct voice consistently. Murray's innate goodwill with audiences keeps Roosevelt's actions from seeming too pervy, and the movie suggests the same manipulative talents used on Daisy came in handy with his presidency.
Realizing the dramatic dead end of Daisy's story, Michell and screenwriter Richard Nelson are soon more interested with history she observed. Hyde Park on Hudson becomes a minor companion piece to The King's Speech, with stuttering George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visiting FDR's estate in 1939 to curry support against Hitler's expanding threat. The movie finds its humor in the royals' shock at Hyde Park's lacking decorum, and a hint of FDR's political savvy.
There's a wonderful scene when the two world leaders share late-night cocktails, away from complicating women, just getting to know each other. Roosevelt detects George's insecurity as he did Daisy's, speaking like a father to someone detached from his. Politics aren't discussed but trust is slyly established, this time without lurid intentions. That scene leads to, and is matched by, a picnic when that trust pays off in what can only be described as hot dog diplomacy.
Eventually Michell must return to Daisy's romantic dilemma — they're her diaries, after all — and the movie mopes along with her. Murray's fine performance disappears, as FDR must have done in Daisy's life. Hyde Park on Hudson is a movie gliding on amusing moments yet few involve her. How ironic that a movie based on Daisy's diaries works better with her in the background or off-screen entirely.