POSTED December 17 2012

The private lives of public figures: Pubic lives

Bill Murray as FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson.

Bill Murray as FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson.

Hyde Park on Hudson, Roger Michell’s sketchy sketch of FDR (Bill Murray), tells the  parallel stories of his two special relationships. One is with King George VI (Samuel West), the other with his cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney).

The film is the latest example of a type of movie one might call “the private lives of public figures,”a genre popularized by Alexander Korda in the 1930s (see The Private Life of Henry VIII, Rembrandt, That Hamilton Woman).

With films such as the Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers and Lisztomania, Ken Russell gave the genre a soft-core spin in the 1970s. In recent years, there’s been the delicious Impromptu (with Judy Davis and Hugh Grant as George Sand and Chopin), Hilary & Jackie (Emily Watson and Rachel Griffith as the musical DuPre sisters), Jefferson in Paris (Nick Nolte as the future president and Thandie Newton as Sally Hemings, the slave he loved). Just last year was My Week With Marilyn, with Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne as a young Englishman she had a dalliance with while making The Prince and the Showgirl.

Some of these films I like very much, particularly That Hamilton Woman and Impromptu, which are dimensional portraits of their subjects. Despite the excellent performances in Hyde Park and Marilyn  the point of these films was not to get at the inner lives of their characters but at their pubic lives. (That’s not a typo.) The films felt naughty — and not in a good way. Your thoughts? Other examples?



  1. Hyde Park made me feel unclean. The movie is from the point of view of a fawning, loserish wallflower who excuses away horrible behavior. I feel like if Linney hadn’t been given the brief fantasy moment where she says “what I should have said” she woulnd’t have taken the role, but I’m still not sure why she did. I sat through “THE GIRL” on HBO because it too had compelling performances, by Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, but it really was a highbrow version of LiLo as Elizabeth Taylor (which I skipped). Ridiculous reductionism, creepy man power, and ultimately worse than reading InTouch magazine, which I don’t do. The King’s Speech is a behind the scenes drama of what it was like to overcome a crippling condition for someone thrust into power; a lot of this other stuff feels like SNL sketches taking themselves way too seriously.

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