Movie Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

The film Hyde Park on Hudson (also entitled The Royal Weekend in some foreign markets) may not make as much money for its producers as they expected. It was severely criticized here in the States where it was released last November. After viewing the film, it is obvious to me that making money was its sole objective.

If it had been a big box-office success it would reveal what an appetite we have for sex -- and what disregard we have for historical accuracy. Historical novels, plays and cinema are my favorites. But there has to be some reasonable engagement with real history behind them. This film has none.

The weekend the king and queen of England came to visit my family's home in Hyde Park in the summer of 1939 is very well recorded. It was a historical moment for them as well as for my grandparents, President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

The film does not take advantage of this documentation, not even the voluminous reporting by the press. Instead the screenwriter extracts his characters from the people who were present and has them dancing to his tune -- presumably producing a film that he hopes will sell and make money. This false representation covers everyone in the film. Inaccuracy is too weak a word to use. This film is a distortion from beginning to end.

Franklin Roosevelt is made to appear to be walking with the aid of two canes. Impossible! It is well known that FDR was crippled from the hips down. He could only stand with the help of two heavy braces locked around his legs and holding tightly onto the arm of a strong aid. And, to add to the ridiculousness, neither could he bounce up and down in his car while my cousin Daisy gave him a hand job. He didn't have the muscles to do so. (Anyway, the real Daisy would have fled the car at the slightest suggestion of such an encounter.)

Furthermore, the president is made out to be a bounder, always having several mistresses on hand. Nothing could be further from the truth; that was not his attitude towards women. He enjoyed the company of women, but he was always respectful.

My grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt, is a minor figure in the film whereas, in fact, it was she who was responsible for 'producing' the events on the weekend of the King and Queen's visit. She was their hostess.

The film reduces my great grandmother, my Granny, to making a few insipid remarks whereas in fact she was our matriarch, the 'grande dame' of the family, and very much in evidence during the weekend.

Marguerite Le Hand, called 'Missy,' was FDR's long time secretary (since his campaign for Vice President in 1920), and is prominent in the script. She was FDR's confidante and was recognised as very influential with the president by the White House inner circle. In the script, she is made out to be one of the president's mistresses. Why? Because, I suppose, the film's producers wanted to show Roosevelt as having a string of mistresses in tow. (In the film Missy rattles off their names to Daisy just to show her what she will have to put up with.) Missy was never his mistress. She got along well with my grandmother and was a member of our household -- no less than one of my second grandmothers.

My cousin Daisy's actual name was Margaret Suckley. In the film she is totally unrecognizable to those of us who knew her. I knew her well from the mid-1930s up to her death in 1991. Her portrayal here is diametrically opposed to the truth.

After Daisy died, a suitcase containing the letters she exchanged with FDR was discovered. They show a degree of closeness between her and my grandfather that no one really suspected. But it was obviously a chaste relationship, one based on her helping FDR with the many small things he couldn't manage as a cripple as well as their amusing exchanges.

A book, Closest Companion, was made of their correspondence, edited and annotated by Geoffrey Ward, who is FDR's best biographer.

Ward's comment about the film? "It's a disgraceful film and made me feel guilty at having edited Daisy's diaries in the first place," he told me personally.

Furthermore, he is quoted in the Washington Post's review of the film as saying:

"His (FDR's) relationship with her (Daisy) was an extremely old-fashioned, very decorous sort of 19th century one -- they wrote each other letters and may have kissed once, in a car on a hilltop. It was the delight of her life to be the friend of Franklin Roosevelt." Having read every word of the letters and diaries the film is supposed to be based on, he (Ward) says, his impression is that she never had sex with anyone, and would be humiliated by such a coarse presentation of their connection.

As for the portrayal of the king and queen of England, that was just embarrassing. They are made to appear banal and provincial. Note the film's use of the tête-à-tête exchange between the king of England and the president of the United States. It is known what they actually talked about -- the political events of the day and the rising threat of war in Europe. That is totally ignored by the screenwriter.

To play with history as the background for a good story is one thing. To reach into history and snatch out well-known historical figures and make them say and do what you want to produce a sexy film is quite another. The gross distortion of significant historical figures such as in Hyde Park on Hudson (or The Royal Weekend) only shows a complete lack of integrity. And when I think of how my Cousin Daisy is used in the film, what crosses my mind is character assassination.