Hyde Park on Hudson

There are certain occasions in history that appropriate a movie production. Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) is one of those movies. While it is poor history, it is a movie worth watching. It is an attempt to tell two very different stories. In part, it is a romanticized story of the unprecedented King and Queen of England’s visit to the United States in 1939, including several familiar anecdotes. Much ado was made about the decision to serve hot dogs for lunch – a choice that produced tension between the president and his mother. Disappointingly, the movie did not go on to mention that the queen could not eat a hot dog because it would not fit in her mouth – a story humorously told later by Eleanor. Hudson also included the familiar story of FDR’s insistence in serving an alcoholic drink over tea, and the Native American ritual that followed lunch. It goes on to show the systematic approach Roosevelt used to charm everyone around him, including the King. Late night conversations over drinks were a natural part of his administration, and Hudson illustrates that well during this particular occasion. The film suggests that the first encounter the King and Queen had with the President was at his backwoods estate in Hyde Park, NY. In fact, the royal family had arrived several days earlier in Washington, DC, where the Roosevelts gave them an extensive tour of the nation’s capital. Hyde Park was no backwoods estate. Rather, it was nestled in a wealthy community. In this sense, Hudson was misleading. The other part of this movie is of Roosevelt’s distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley.

Roosevelt and Daisy had a history that dated long before the movie suggests. Hudson has the two meeting just before the King and Queen arrive in 1939. This is simply not true. Hudson, as any narrative telling the relationship between these two distant cousins, is based on Daisy’s diary that was kept hidden until her death in 1991. Historian Geoffrey C. Ward discovered her diary, as well as personal correspondence between her and the President and published them in his book titled, Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley. Hudson suggests that Roosevelt and Daisy were more than friends. In 1935, during a car ride in the country, FDR drove Daisy to the top of a scenic hill in Dutchess County. According to Ward (basing his conclusions off of Daisy’s account),

“Something happened in that place on that afternoon that neither of them ever forgot. Three years later, FDR was still calling it the beginning of ‘a voyage.’ Perhaps they simply kissed. A poem clipped from the newspaper and carefully pasted by Daisy into her diary    suggests that they did. Perhaps they merely confessed to each other the loneliness they felt.”

There is no reason to suggest that FDR had a sexual relationship with Daisy. However, Hudson portrays Roosevelt as a man who frequently had several women in his life with whom he had a sexual relationship. This is probably the most disturbing part of the film, as it is simply wrong. Roosevelt certainly kept several female companions close to him for company, as Eleanor was frequently travelling. The movie does correctly describe Roosevelt’s relationship with Lucy Mercer Rutherford. They had had an affair that nearly destroyed Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage in 1921. However, Roosevelt had no extramarital affairs with Daisy or his other close companion, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand as Hudson suggests.

Aside from the false sexual escapades, which are a very misleading understanding of FDR’s character, Hudson does a descent job at portraying FDR. Bill Murry, an actor who has played many different roles in other films including the role of a ghost fighter in Ghostbusters and a corky golfer in Caddyshack, does justice to Roosevelt. Murry’s FDR was a man who adored his stamp collection and loved to show it to visitors, had an impeccable charm about him that could win almost anyone over, loved to relax over a martini made by himself, and loved to take rides in the countryside with his car designed with hand controls (taking into account his paralysis). Hudson demonstrated the kind relationship the media had for the president – taking his photograph only when the president could hide his paralysis. The Secret Services agents and assistants carried Roosevelt around in the movie, as though he were a child. It is refreshing to see this part of the movie true-to-life and rightly shows FDR’s humility. The awkward silent moments of the film depict Roosevelt much less complex than he really was.

Hudson is a film that has many historical references. However, one must be very cautious not to interpret this film as history. It is simply a fun, fictitious narrative of two stories that did not occur concurrently, as the film suggests. All in all, Hudson is well worth seeing when it comes to theatres nation-wide. Focus Features: Hyde Park on Hudson

About brentgstewart

I am a 20th century historian with a focus on political history. My primary work has focussed on the personal life of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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