Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Hyde Park on Hudson vs. Lincoln, two films profiling American presidents in periods of turmoil.
If you're looking for a historically accurate representation of FDR's presidency, Hyde Park on Hudson is probably not the movie for you—politics and an impending war merely provide the backdrop. Hyde Park is a snapshot of a single, yet apparently pivotal weekend in June 1939 at the Roosevelts' upstate New York country house, featuring the first visit from reigning British royalty and an questionable love affair—think less history, more Downton Abbey soap opera drama, the only difference being that Laura Linney has a significant role in Hyde Park as FDR (Bill Murray)'s distant cousin and secret lover, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.
Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Spielberg's Lincoln focuses on the 16th president's last four months of life, in which he strives to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. It paints Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) as a heroic figure using his political genius to overcome difficult relationships with cabinet members. Lincoln's life is obviously rich with dramatic material, but we want to give Hyde Park credit, too, for examining an historical event that's been largely forgotten.
Visually, Hyde Park on Hudson channels last year's My Week With Marilyn, with its ethereal shots of FDR and his guests frolicking in the countryside. But like Renoir's painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette, even though the subjects are letting loose, everything feels stiff and calculated. The scenery is undoubtedly beautiful, with scenes of the rich feigning spontaneity by flitting amongst immaculately manicured greenery while throwing their heads back in laughter—but perhaps this comes at the expense of a more complex and intriguing plotline. Stylistically, the cinematography of Lincoln is tailored perfectly to its plot, with an emphasis on contrast between images of light (daylight, candlelight, fire) and dark (silhouettes, nighttime, Civil War battlefields) that symbolizes the divide in a Civil War-torn America.
Aside from the setting, Bill Murray seems to be the only saving grace of Hyde Park. We've heard about how FDR's bout with polio shaped the charismatic personality we know well; and as one would expect, Murray brings this lighthearted humor to FDR's character and mannerisms. Obviously we don't know what Abraham Lincoln's voice sounded like—though historians are arguing that it wasn't quite baritone and was more shrill—but we have a hunch it's nothing like Daniel Day-Lewis' warbly interpretation. While there is an undeniable physical resemblance, Day-Lewis' Lincoln is a bit cartoonish and forced, especially when he urges, "The fate of human dignity is in our hands. Blood's been spilled to afford us this moment. Now, now, now."
Advantage: Hyde Park on Hudson
There is a soft spot in our hearts for Roger Michell's Notting Hill, but Hyde Park on Hudson feels Anglicized and far less Hudson Valley region than it should—after all, it is a movie about an American president set in upstate New York. And we hate to say it, but Spielberg always—always!—automatically wins this category.
Lincoln marks the 26th collaboration between Steven Spielberg and John Williams, who is responsible for many of film's most recognizable scores. The Lincoln score is as majestic and rightfully dramatic as one would expect from the composer of the music for Jaws, Star Wars, Hook, Schindler's List, and Harry Potter, to name a few minor examples. We love the inclusion of the Cole Porter classic, "Just One of Those Things" in the Hyde Park trailer, but we just have impossibly high expectations for John Williams.
We're eager to watch Bill Murray as FDR, but judging by the trailer, Hyde Park on Hudson is cheery at best. Lincoln has been in the works since Spielberg first learned of Goodwin's plans to write Team of Rivals in 1999. With the gorgeous cinematography, a John Williams score and all that unavoidable Oscar buzz surrounding a Spielberg film that has yet to hit theaters, we're going to have to go with Lincoln.
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