Bill Murray Is Far and Away the Best Franklin D. Roosevelt in Movie History

Courtesy of Walmark Films


When I spoke with director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Venus) about casting Bill Murray to play Franklin D. Roosevelt in his new film Hyde Park on Hudson, Michell was emphatic in defending his pick to portray the 32nd president of the United States.

“I’ve read that some consider it ‘stunt casting,’ but in fact the reverse is the case,” Michell said. “I ended up realizing that I wasn’t interested in making the film without Bill Murray. There are other actors who you’d think would be great in the role, but nobody seemed to have that Wizard of Oz-ness about them, that kind of glorious mischief that Bill has.”

The reason Michell’s decision might strike some as “stunt casting” is because Bill Murray has (despite his more serious roles) an on- and off-screen persona that many would say is too awesome to seem presidential. I mean, have you seen Stripes? His stint on SNL? How about this photo of him co-hosting Eric Clapton’s blues-rock festival in 2007?:

bill murray eric clapton

Truejustice/Wikimedia Commons

Or this scene in which he attacks Robert De Niro:

bill muray robert de niro mad dog and glory

Via Universal Studios

Or this photo of Murray at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, clearly shunning any sense of stuffy decorum:

bill murray cannes film festival

Via Getty

See? Bill Murray is probably too awesome and entirely too party to play Franklin Roosevelt. And yet Murray knocks it completely out of the park.

“[Roosevelt] was a man who could charm the pants off the electorate, and got away with murder in his private life,” Michell said. “I was worried that in the wrong hands, some of the activities of the president could become predatory or deeply, deeply unsympathetic—and it would turn into the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story, or even the Bill Clinton story.”

Hyde Park on Hudson dramatizes the weekend the Roosevelts spent with King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth at FDR’s estate in Hyde Park, NY, in 1939. The film also focuses on the president’s intimate relationship with his aide Margaret Suckley, played by Laura Linney. It is a slight but endearing little picture, with a comic grace and some ace digital photography. (And along with the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romantic comedy Notting Hill, it’s Michell’s second “special relationship” movie.)

As FDR, Murray is something of a dignified riot. He plays Roosevelt as the president was in real life: an urbane, incredibly charming, booze-swilling, chain-smoking, womanizing frat boy. So if you think about it for more than a second, then yes, the choice to cast Murray is actually as obvious as you can get. This is also by far the best on-screen depiction of FDR that the movie industry has been able to produce. Not to belittle Murray’s fine work in the film, it’s just that there are so few portrayals even worth noting. Among them are:

Bill Murray’s FDR is more elegant—and more of a good time—than any of those previous attempts.

Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin’s reviews, click here.

To listen to the weekly movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

One More Thing

And it's a big one. Mother Jones is launching a new Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on the corruption that is both the cause and result of the crisis in our democracy.

The more we thought about how Mother Jones can have the most impact right now, the more we realized that so many stories come down to corruption: People with wealth and power putting their interests first—and often getting away with it.

Our goal is to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We're aiming to create a reporting position dedicated to uncovering corruption, build a team, and let them investigate for a year—publishing our stories in a concerted window: a special issue of our magazine, video and podcast series, and a dedicated online portal so they don't get lost in the daily deluge of headlines and breaking news.

We want to go all in, and we've got seed funding to get started—but we're looking to raise $500,000 in donations this spring so we can go even bigger. You can read about why we think this project is what the moment demands and what we hope to accomplish—and if you like how it sounds, please help us go big with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate