It really stinks that Bill Murray made this film this year.
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Roger Michell, 2012) describes the King and Queen of England (Samuel West & Olivia Colman)'s visit to the U.S. to convince President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) to aid them in then in the mounting World War II, at a time when he was having an affair with his distant cousin (Laura Linney). I describe the movie this way, because that is much of its charm - instead of being a movie about a long affair, stretched over a long period of time and multiple scenes, as a lesser film would, this is, for the most part, a very specific story about two very specific characters - the President and his mistress - and is told very charmingly, with two fantastic performances by two great actors. As a result, we get to see this complex relationship as it plays out in real, public life, a public life as complex as the situation described here. For although FDR was (and is) a much beloved figure and a memorable President, this movie makes it clear that he was a man like any other, that his handicap didn't give him any particular nobility, but rather that the greatness of the man came from his ability to negotiate all of the various hats he wore and roles people expected him to play successfully. A champion of the poor, FDR, as depicted here, had no idea whether his New Deal was ultimately going to work or not, and had the burden of keeping the hopes and expectations of a suffering nation at bay. To cope with this, he did things that challenged his moral reputation, things that, to his cousin Daisy (Linney) made him as important on a personal relationship level as he was on the larger one. As a result, the relationship between the two of them is very charming, and they are compelling to watch together.
Most compelling to me, however, is the way this movie humanizes everybody in it. There is nothing grandiose about the stuttering King George VI (West), who constantly lives in the shadow of his brother, completely at the mercy of his domineering wife (Colman). FDR connects with him on this level, as the President himself is continually under the thumb of his handlers, including both his mother (Elizabeth Wilson) and his own wife (Olivia Williams). But it's through this that we see why he was such an effective politician, able to connect with the King through their mutual constraints, and connect them with the common man the way he himself did by serving the royals (gasp!) hot dogs. By showing both FDR and the royals on this microscopic level, this movie illustrates that at the end of the day, the great figures in our history are just people, doing the best they can with the huge burden placed on them. It sometimes forces them to compromise to do it, but in the situation they are in, that really does seem to be the best way. We have never seen FDR in this light, and that made him all the more compelling a figure.
As did Bill Murry, which is the reason why I say this was the wrong year for him to do this film, because in any other, he would easily win Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Having watched the comedic Bill Murry for years, we have only learned how good an actor he really is recently, as he has taken on more and more challenging roles. In this one, the Bill Murry we know from "Saturday Night Live" and GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman, 1984) disappears - he really becomes this new character who we see as being FDR. It's a remarkable performance, and as I said, would definitely be rewarded in almost any other year. In this one, however, I cannot see him beating Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln, which this film is a good companion to, as they both humanize two of the greatest Presidents in history.
As a film unto itself, however, it's exceptional, IMO. A.