Hyde Park on Hudson tells the story of a few important days during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Well, kinda. See, one shouldn’t mistake Hyde Park as a film for dusty old history buffs- Hyde Park is a movie about gettin’ down.
If you were thinking presidential sex scandals came in with John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, then you’d be humping wrong. The rumors of presidents messing about outside marriage abound from Thomas Jefferson to Warren G. Harding. Even ol’ FDR, wheelchair-bound and all is portrayed by Bill Murray as quite the rascal when it came to the opposite sex. Try at least three mistresses, two during the same period. That’s also what this movie is about.
Margaret “Daisy” Suckley’s (Laura Linney) romantic entanglement with the President in pastoral Hyde Park always seems innocent, flirtatious and inconsequential amid this sublime image of post-Great Depression and pre-World War II rural America. Despite the lightness of conscience all about these two distant cousins, their relationship is both intimate and impactful. Among other gestures, the President has a cottage built for Daisy and she helps him keep his mind at ease, often going for long serene drives in the surrounding country and sometimes just by being near him at the estate.
It isn’t until the first visit of the King and Queen of England to the US approaches that the roles of the various women in FDR’s life become clearer and defined, while Daisy’s understanding of her own place in Hyde Park becomes strained. The drama of this culminating event is emotionally intense, but in a refined way, as Daisy, through anguish and confusion finds that if she chooses, she too will have an important place in this unconventional arrangement- one that, according to the movie, was critical to the President’s leadership during this tumultuous period. Though historians debate whether FDR had any extra-marital affairs at all and various other creative liberties are included in the movie, it was worthwhile for me to suspend any need for accuracy.
Considering the period and figures portrayed, Hyde Park on Hudson feels mostly apolitical as national and international issues of the times bleed subtly into the narrative. The King and Queen, amid great uncertainty as they are about to enter war against the Axis Powers, are in need of American support, but this historically paramount trip but the movie focuses its attention on the creation of a tender friendship between King George VI and FDR. The American President assumes a paternal character, giving guidance to the new king about overcoming struggles with self-confidence and leadership and as a result a bond grows between the two leaders and their nations. Interdependence is the cornerstone of this movie as the leaders of the world are portrayed as relying on the support of human bonds with those around them whether they are family, loved ones or other leaders like themselves.
During a late night conversation with the King, FDR explains that the public will only see what they need to see in their leaders and that they will even overlook their limitations if that’s what is needed. The President was referring to his own polio disease, but I also like to think he was making a profound point about the relationships that aid us in being our best. Though we often choose to recognize one name or one face, perhaps nobody becomes great alone. There’s no doubt, historical fact or historical fiction, that Daisy was a source of support and comfort during an exceptional presidency.