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All the President’s Concubines

Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray as FDR channeling Bill Clinton.

by
John Boot

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December 7, 2012 - 7:00 am
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We already knew that Franklin D. Roosevelt was a lousy president — the Depression dragged on for 11 years, mostly on his watch, so the proper word for what he did to the economic calamity is “extend,” not “end” it — but the strange Bill Murray comedy Hyde Park on Hudson makes clear that FDR was a horrible man as well.

The movie is principally about FDR’s habit of employing his mother to call up local women, some of them cousins, and send them over to be the president’s concubines at his country house in upstate New York. It’s made clear to the women that they’re not to be taken seriously, they’re not to say anything, and they’ll be discarded as soon as the president tires of them, and in this film by Roger Michell (Notting Hill) all of this is presented as merry good fun and entirely suitable behavior by the iconic figure of the party that “cares about women.”

Laura Linney plays Daisy, a second cousin who is hurried into FDR’s life for unpaid sex work. FDR flirts with her by showing her his stamp collection, then takes her for a quiet country drive in his car, which is operated exclusively by hand controls due to his paralysis. But apparently the president was able to maintain an extramarital love life that can only be called Clintonian, or perhaps Kennedyesque. (Why is it that our most priapic presidents tend to be Democrats? Is it because they enjoy doing to the country what they do to unsuspecting younger women?) A more astute director would have played FDR’s womanizing as yet more evidence of the imperiousness of a president who famously used to lie around in bed in the morning dreaming up a price for gold, for instance declaring 21 cents to be the right number because sevens are lucky and 21 is three times seven.

Daisy, quickly accepted as the newest member of the household (though not the only concubine present), gets to witness the events of the summer of 1939, when (or so this movie would have us believe) the fate of the free world rested on whether or not the king of England would eat a hot dog.

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