Richard Nelson, an American wright of elegant plays everyone assumes are British, doesn’t exactly hit the ground running in his first film script, a rich, but highly speculative account of a late ‘30s visit to President Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home by the British Royals. With war looming in Europe, a charm offensive was needed . . . on both sides, hindered by a lack of confidence by a new King & Queen without much glamour; and by the unusual relationships between Franklin, Eleanor & enough close friends, in-laws, mistresses & bosom companions for a couple of scorecards. Franklin’s latest (putative) affair arises gently, with a distant cousin during a spin in a specially rigged car run all by hand . . . so to speak. Up to this point, we might be seeing some poor relation to Nöel Coward’s HAY FEVER (say, Woody Allen’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY/’82), but everything improves rapidly once The Royals show, like a good dinner party that clicks into place. And just such a party turns out to be our main subject. First a formal dinner, then the famous picnic where the King was served all-American hot dogs sans utensils. Darned if he didn’t eat ‘em up, just like a regular chap . . . er, regular guy. Bill Murray, after years of coasting, shows real acting chops as FDR, lightly touching on the famous voice & mannerisms, while Samuel West makes something of his own out of stuttering King George VI. Together, a late night chat between King & President becomes the clear highlight of the film, with a Shavian wit to it that lets us see how FDR used his handicap to his advantage. The whole cast shines under Roger Michell’s smooth helming, though Laura Linney, as cousin Daisy, is inching ever closer to perennial award-worthy nobility. (NOTE: Once again, we should point out that a 'Family Friendly' tag does NOT mean a Kiddie Pic, but a film that might interest the whole family. This film has a bit of sex on (near) display. But hey, ain't that how you get a family?)
DOUBLE-BILL: Roger Michell’s PERSUASION/’95 got a bit lost during the last Jane Austen adaptation cycle, but it’s surely the grittiest and, quite possibly, the best of the lot.