White House - Wikimedia
President Franklin D. Roosevelt often visited Springwood, his mother’s vacation getaway, in the Hudson Valley in Hyde Park, New York. In 1939, Franklin’s mother asked his sixth cousin, Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney) to visit him since he was having a bout with his yearly recurrence of a sinus infection. At that time, Daisy was a single woman in her late 40’s. They had played together as children. Daisy is the narrator of the story; it is told throughout from her point of view.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - Wikimedia
Franklin (Bill Murray) showed Daisy his stamp collection of which he was very proud. She was soon taken into his confidence and developed strong feelings for him. Franklin loved taking rides through the countryside in his car which was equipped to allow him to manually drive with only his hands. Franklin’s wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) never liked driving with him, so Daisy agreed to take frequent rides with the President who chose this form of relaxation to take him away from his work.
Their Friendship Blossoms
Daisy became a regular visitor at Hyde Park, acting as a caretaker, often at his side, happy to do his bidding. On one ride through the countryside, Franklin took her to a hidden-away spot which he was building which became known as “Top Cottage.” He told Daisy it would be a place where she could come and be alone and miss him. He said it would be their shared refuge after his presidency. If anybody thought that the two were becoming too intimate, they said nothing.
Eleanor Roosevelt Wikimedia
A Visit from the King and Queen of England
In June 1939, England’s King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth were scheduled to make a visit to Hyde Park to visit with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt. There was a strong possibility that England would be thrust into war with Germany, and the King was hoping that the United States would join them in their fight against Hitler.
King George VI was the first British Monarch to visit the United States. He became King under unusual circumstances. His elder brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936 in favor of marrying the divorced American, Wallis Simpson, the love of his life. George VI suffered a speech impediment and did not feel equal to the task of ruling the British Empire. He was very nervous about his visit because of his speech difficulty, because of the gravity of the request he planned to make, and also because he and the Queen were expected to attend a picnic where American hot dogs would be served.
Bill Murray Wikimedia
The Royals are Nervous About Their Visit
When the King and Queen arrived at Springwood, they were shown to their room where they could rest awhile before dinner. On the wall in the bedroom, there were cartoons of the War of 1812 mocking the British soldiers. They were horrified that the pictures were hung in the room which they occupied, and wondered what it signified. The Queen was not happy at all about the trip; she had been thrust, with her husband, into a life which neither of them had sought.
Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt (Elizabeth Wilson) was the matriarch of Springwood, and insisted that the King should not be served cocktails. Her own father had been an alcoholic, and she detested serving it to her guests. Also, she was informed that there were not enough plates for the visitors. She told her maid to borrow her neighbor Mrs. Astor’s plates. The maid was to call Mrs. Astor’s cook since the woman was so rich that she probably didn’t know what she had.
At the dinner, to which Daisy was invited, a server dropped her tray which contained several of Mrs. Astor’s dishes, which crashed to the ground. The kindly King made light of it, easing everyone’s embarrassed feelings. When Mrs. Roosevelt asked him if he would prefer a cocktail or tea, the King said he would prefer a cocktail.
Laura Linney Wikimedia
George VI and Franklin Have a Private Conversation
After dinner, George VI and Franklin retired to his study where they could be alone. George started to stutter, and was furious at himself for doing so. Franklin explained that he himself did not like the handicap which had befallen him. He explained that people do not refer to it, nor do they really notice it. They see only what they want to see. George was grateful for his kind understanding and the men had a productive visit. When George broached the subject of hoping that the United States would join them in the inevitable war that was approaching, Franklin assured him that he would see that the American people would get behind England.
Daisy Suckley and Fala Wikimedia
Daisy Has a Surprising Revelation
Daisy waited around that evening, thinking that she would have time with Franklin after the Royals went to bed. He did not summon her. She left Springwood and drove to the Top Cottage where she “could go to be alone and miss him.” When she arrived there, she was shocked when Missy, the President’s secretary (Elizabeth Marvel) came out on the porch. Top Cottage was the place which Franklin said would be their refuge when he left the presidency.
Missy followed Daisy to her car and explained to her that there were others besides themselves. Dorothy Schiff and Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd were also Franklin’s mistresses at times, and Daisy would have to learn to share him, just as Missy had. Daisy was saddened at the news and drove home.
George VI Sampled a Hot Dog
Daisy attended the picnic the next day even though she was unhappy at what had occurred the previous evening. Eleanor had arranged for an Indian singer and some dancers to entertain the guests. When George VI was presented with his hot dog, he did not know quite what to do with it. Daisy was commissioned to add mustard to his hot dog. He enjoyed it after all, putting a human touch on the Monarch for all of the world to see.
Missy LeHand - Wikimedia
Franklin Visits Daisy at her Home
Daisy left the picnic early, pleading illness, and refused to see Franklin for the next five days when he came to her house. By that time, she had forgiven him in her heart. She accepted her role as one of the President’s mistresses. They resumed their friendship. Daisy and Missy became close friends thereafter.
The final credits of the movie revealed that when Daisy died at the age of 100, a box of letters was found under her bed. Her long-held secret was no longer a secret.
This was a most enjoyable film. In the background, those who might have noticed heard some old classic songs, such as “Moonlight Serenade” and “If I Didn’t Care,” typical of the music of that time. Our flawed humanity is shared even by those we revere, and whom we are more likely to forgive.
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