Hail to Bill Murray for doing FDR justice in ‘Hyde Park’

Bill Murray deserves to be mentioned among the greatest comic actors in cinema history.

Although the thought of him playing Franklin D. Roosevelt is not very funny, in Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” FDR becomes a most amusing — as well as sad and searching — Murray-like character.

“Hyde Park on Hudson” takes place mostly over the course of a weekend in June 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited America while FDR was serving as the country’s 32nd president.

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(Yes, this King George is the same stuttering Bertie character Colin Firth famously portrayed in “The King’s Speech”; here he is played by Samuel West.)

Based on her letters and diaries, the story is told from the point of view of Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), a fifth cousin of FDR who became intimate with him during the time.

The movie hints at a sexual or romantic affair, but, as in Murray’s “Lost in Translation,” focuses more on the concept of longing rather than on payoff.

Linney’s Daisy is a quiet type, content to disappear into the background, but in deep awe and admiration of her new confidant.

She complies when his schedule and marriage to Eleanor (Olivia Williams) prevents them from spending time together, but her face reveals how much she misses him. Their scenes together are sweet and tender, nonetheless.

Yet “Hyde Park’s” key moments come when FDR, with his polio and useless legs, and Bertie, with his stutter, share late-night drinks and conversation in the president’s study.

Talking about women, power, physical disabilities, perception and other topics, the world leaders’ wonderfully human fallibilities are revealed.  

Director Michell (“Notting Hill”) and screenwriter Richard Nelson don’t cohesively tie the royals’ visit to Daisy’s story. Instead, they weave a spell, creating a slightly on-edge atmosphere in which typically kept secrets might slip out.

At the same time, scenes of refreshing release make the movie a breezy, carefree experience.

The mix works, thanks to Murray. In a presidential mode, he creates tension and then effortlessly diffuses it. He’s also a great comedian, working the room and turning everyone around to his side. He’s got my vote.

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