When Franklin Roosevelt’s sixth cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (pronounced “sook-lee”) died at age 99, a cache of letters was found in a suitcase under her bed. Everyone knew she had spent years working near Roosevelt, and most thought he had kindly provided for her by allowing her to act as his cataloger and librarian. But the letters revealed a close and tender friendship and implied that there was more. And so, in this fact-based story of the first visit to the United States by a British monarch, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (and Franklin’s redoutable mother) welcomed King George V (that’s “The King’s Speech” king, no longer looking like Colin Firth but recognizable by his stutter) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the parents of the current about-to-become-a-great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II to the Roosevelt’s summer home in New York State. And fed them hot dogs.
So there are really two movies here. Bill Murray is superb as Roosevelt, famously described by Oliver Wendell Holmes as having “a second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament.” Murray gives a beautifully subtle, complex and fully immersed performance as the patrician President whose polio-induced paralysis gave him a deeper understanding and sense of purpose. The scene where he has an impromptu late-night meeting with the young king is one of the best of the year.
But the movie gets soapy and uncomfortably speculative when it focuses on the relationship between Daisy and the President. Is it a romance? Is it a story about Daisy’s spirit enlarging as she goes from adolescent crush to a sort of sister-wife support group with the other women in FDR’s harem, including his secretary and, of course, his wife Eleanor, beautifully played with asperity and an endearing sense of rebellion by Murray’s “Rushmore” co-star Olivia Williams. But the film wavers uncertainly between geopolitics illuminated by personality (well handled) and the schoolgirl longings and skeezy predation of his relationship with Daisy.
Parents should know that this film has frank sexual references and situations (one briefly explicit) including approving depiction of adultery, some strong language, and social drinking as well as a positive portrayal of characters with disabilities.
Family discussion: Why do the women forgive Roosevelt? What did the King learn from his conversation with Roosevelt? What did they have in common?
If you like this, try: “The King’s Speech,” “Sunrise at Campobello,” and the book Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley by historian Geoffrey Ward