TORONTO -- Hyde Park on Hudson doesn't just speculate about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's private affairs of the heart.
The historical drama that opens Friday also acts as a prequel to the 2010 best-picture Oscar winner The King's Speech.
Bothfilms share depictions of England's King George VI, the stutteringroyal who reluctantly sat upon the throne -- after brother Edwardabdicated to marry an American divorcee -- as World War II threatenedin the pivotal year of 1939.
"In some ways, it is good for us," notes Hyde Park director Roger Michell. But, considering that critical comparisons are inevitable, "in some ways it's bad."
While Speech showed the king declaring war against the Germans in a radio address, Hyde Parktakes place several months earlier as Bertie, as he was known, becomesthe first reigning British monarch to visit the United States. Hismission: convince the president to support his country's fight againstthe Nazis while being a guest at FDR's upstate New York getaway.
Whereas Colin Firth couldn't help but lend some actorly charm to Bertie -- winning an Oscar in the bargain -- Samuel West(Howards End)is a more timid ruler, fearful of being humiliated by being forced toeat his first-ever hot dog at a picnic organized by first lady Eleanor.
"Itwas a very conscious political act by Eleanor," says Michell, "showingthe royals a kind of informal hospitality that they wouldn't find at theWhite House."
Bertie is also constantly henpecked by his wife (Olivia Colman, more of a nag than Helena Bonham Carter's soulmate queen in Speech) who unfavorably compares him to his more popular elder brother.
In theUnited States, "There wasn't a lot of sympathy for this awkwardstuttering man and plump wife," says the British director. "But aspecial relationship between these countries was struck on this summerweekend."
Many critics have called the cocktail-lubricated meetingof the minds between the insecure, stammering king and a cagey,polio-impaired FDR, played with humor and easy authority by Bill Murray,the highlight of Hyde Park. It's a much different but no lessinspirational and confidence-building relationship than the one sharedby Firth and co-star Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist.
Basically, their mutual handicaps seal their bond.
Whenthe king declares, "This goddamned stutter," FDR counters with, "Whatstutter?" He then adds, "This goddamned polio." When the presidentfollows with the observation that his paralyzed legs are never mentionedby his constituency, it's as if a weight is lifted off of Bertie.
Althoughthe popularity of the previous movie led to a trimming of scenes thatrevolved around stuttering, Michell feels that any familiarity with KingGeorge VI will ultimately pay off and put the audience at ease. Inother words, "We didn't have to start from scratch."