It can be confusing to see so much talent and good intention poured into an enterprise as wrongheaded as Hyde Park on Hudson. You see Bill Murray giving a studious but unmannered performance as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and you wonder why he makes you wince. You watch Laura Linney — who can do anything because she's Laura Linney — take a method approach to playing a wallflower and disappear in front of your eyes, midsentence. You take in the nostalgic pleasantness of the Depression-era sets and costumes, the PBS whiff of the handsome camerawork and lighting, and you ask yourself: Is it I, or is this actually, as my grandmother might have put it, horrid?
It's not you.
Linney plays Margaret Suckley, the president's sixth cousin, whom friends called Daisy and whom Roosevelt — according to this trite, vacant movie — knew as "the one who gave me the handy in my convertible."
Suckley's manual stimulation of FDR is a matter of debate. Geoffrey Ward, from whose 1995 book, Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley, this film's screenplay is drawn, says the cousins' relationship was almost certainly hands-off. But in the historical-liberties department, playwright Richard Nelson's script bears just right of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, so one genteel shot of a car rocked ever so slightly by a presidential orgasm isn't the most grating violation on view.
Nelson and director Roger Michell, not content with the implied bedroom farce of putting together in one house FDR, Daisy, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams, stranded) and Missy LeHand (the president's secretary, with whom he did have an affair, played here by Elizabeth Marvel), add a royal visit. So we're there for the June 1939 weekend when King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) stop at FDR's Hudson River estate long enough to eat some hot dogs and suss out an alliance for the coming war. (West and Colman are both very good, lending a little depth to parts written with a condescending snarl.)
And that's basically it: A stressed-out president needs a little attention from a woman who doesn't mind being treated like a doormat, so that he can be clearheaded as he brings hope to England, by way of barbecued wieners. It's not confusing after all, but Linney is made to read what feels like a lot of voice-over anyway, a dumb movie talking to you as though you were a moron.