We saw the movie Hyde Park on the Hudson this week. It tells two stories. I liked one and not the other. The first story is about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s love life. He is portrayed as quite a philanderer in this film ! The movie chronicles his adulterous relationship with a distant cousin named Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. Evidence about this romance surfaced in 1991 when Daisy died at age 99 and a box full of correspondence and diaries was found under her bed. The materials hinted at a relationship with the president that was far more than just friendly.
FDR was married to Eleanor at the time of his intimacy with Daisy and in the movie he appears to love his wife too. As the film progresses we discover he is also having sexual relations with his private secretary Missy Le Hand. His son Elliot writes about his father’s affair with Missy in a book about his parents. FDR left half his estate to Missy in his will. Missy tells Daisy about another woman Mrs. Lucy Rutherford with whom FDR is also involved. She was his wife Eleanor’s private secretary and they broke off their relationship at one point and Lucy married. But that wasn’t necessarily the end of their romance. The affair with Lucy has been well documented and it’s intensity and scope confirmed by Lucy’s private papers. Lucy Rutherford was with FDR when he died.
I find it hard to understand how a man in the public eye could juggle so many amorous liaisons without detection by the public, but it was a different time. In the movie, FDR says in a conversation with the young King of England “Can you imagine the disappointment when they find out what we really are?” He realizes most people have no idea what kind of private life he leads and it is better that they don’t. Of course now we live in a day and age where every single detail of a political leader’s private life is made public. FDR could never have gotten away with his extra-martial affairs today without someone finding out.
I didn’t like this story line in the movie because the women seemed so weak and gullible. Why would they carry on loving the president and spending time with him even when they knew he was seeing other women? I can understand why his wife might. She did have five children to think about and divorce was not socially acceptable at the time. But what about the other three? What allure did the president possess that made it possible for these women to jeopardize their integrity, their self-esteem and their future just for the chance to share his affections?
I did like the storyline about the British king and queen, the current Queen Elizabeth’s parents, who were visiting FDR’s country home for a weekend in the movie. George VI had only been king for three years in 1939 when he became the first British monarch to visit the United States since it declared its independence from England in 1776.
The king, or ‘Bertie’ as his wife refers to him is portrayed as quite self-conscious and unsure of himself in the movie. His stutter embarrasses him and he is compared to his much more dashing brother who was to inherit the throne till he fell in love with a divorced woman, Wallis Simpson.
The movie suggests FDR put Bertie at ease by taking him swimming, car riding and sharing a nightcap with him. The two became friendly and the favorable impression the royal couple left on the American public made it easier for Roosevelt to provide support to England during World War II.
I enjoyed the portrayal of the king and queen in the movie. They genuinely seemed to feel affection for one another even if they didn’t always agree. One disagreement is over hot dogs. Hot dogs are on the menu at a picnic the Roosevelts host and the queen feels it is beneath her husband to eat this popular American food and that it is being served to make him look the fool. The king disagrees and eats a hot dog with mustard appearing to really enjoy it. The press reported this and it made the king popular in America. Apparently the queen ate a hot dog too but with a knife and fork.
King George and Queen Elizabeth were much more likeable in the film than Franklin and Eleanor.
Hyde Park on the Hudson is a fictional account of a historical event. Despite the fact I only enjoyed one of its story lines it did inspire me to do some research and find out more about two couples who played a pivotal role in the history of two powerful nations.
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