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Hyde Parking: After “Lincoln” and Liberty Comes FDR and a Mistress

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In “Hyde Park on Hudson,” opening Friday, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a jocular Bill Murray), who’s driving a convertible in Dutchess County, New York, indicates to the security detail following him to depart. He then parks in a lavender field on a hill with a lovely view.

The occupant of the passenger seat is not First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), but Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (understatedly played by Laura Linney), a distant cousin and confidante of FDR and, at 48, nine years his junior. FDR soon takes Daisy’s left hand and places it on his thigh. He also undoes his fly. Director Roger Michell then cuts to a long shot from behind the car, which gently rocks in rhythm to Daisy’s hand as she masturbates FDR to orgasm.

It’s not known whether the 32nd President and Miss Suckley (whose name was pronounced “Sook-lee”) actually behaved like teenagers at a drive-in. But far from ruffling the placid surface of Michell’s movie, the scene dovetails with its charm and discretion. Scandal and the threat of impeachment were for future Presidents. Storm clouds gather, however, when Daisy learns she is not the only woman administering to FDR’s personal needs, resulting in an oddly Gothic scene in which she flees through a wood. Subsequently, the chuckling, winking FDR turns coercive and threatening, albeit momentarily.

Adapted by playwright Richard Nelson from his 2009 BBC Radio 3 play, “Hyde Park on Hudson” draws on Miss Suckley’s letters and diaries, which were edited by Roosevelt biographer Geoffrey C. Ward into the 1995 book “Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley.”

As explained in an article written by Barbara Ireland for The New York Times’s Escapes in 2007, Miss Suckley’s diaries and 1933-45 correspondence with FDR (including 38 letters in his hand) were found in a suitcase under her bed after she died at the age of 99 in June, 1991, 46 years after Roosevelt died. His letters to her mentioned such important wartime matters as his meeting with Winston Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941 and the plans for the D-Day invasion.

“Hyde Park on Hudson” concerns more than Roosevelt and Miss Suckley’s alleged romance. Its tension derives from the June 1939 “Top Cottage Picnic” on the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park when FDR and Eleanor entertained — and famously served hot dogs — to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (mother of the current Queen), who are played with comic starchiness by Samuel West and Olivia Colman.

With Britain’s entry into World War II unavoidable, the King and Queen have come calling to discourage FDR from taking an isolationist stance. Miss Suckley was present at the picnic, though her sexual relationship with the President, if one ever existed, may have ended around 1937, when he indicated to her that Top Cottage would be his retreat and not their special place. The film collapses the Windsors’ weekend in Hyde Park with the crisis in FDR and Daisy’s relationship — a liberty that can be forgiven.

Images from top: Laura Linney and Bill Murray in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” photo by Nicola Dove – © 2012 – Focus Features; Margaret Suckley, via biosinhistory.com

Below: trailer for “Hyde Park on Hudson”



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