Now that the reflected glory of The King’s Speech has faded, only to be replaced by this summer’s Diamond Jubilee, it seems that Hollywood has decided to make some movie capital from the closest it can get to its own version of a monarchy – the Presidents of the United States.
The next eighteen months or so will see at least three big films (I’m not counting Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – the title just fills me with dread) focusing on the lives of past – primarily 20th century – occupants of The White House.
Director Lee Daniels’ version of The Butler, the story of Eugene Allen, a White House butler who served no less than eight presidents from 1952 to 1986, hit the headlines this week with the casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. It’s a cameo role, but nonetheless laden with irony. The one-time so-called Hanoi Jane was heavily involved in politics, not just fighting against the Vietnam War but also speaking out in favour of women’s and civil rights. Now it seems she’s set to play the ultimate conservative woman.
That said, it looks like Daniels, who previously directed Precious, has assembled a top drawer cast. According to Variety magazine, the film will mark the return to the big screen of Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker is tipped for the title role, with Liam Neeson likely to play Lyndon B Johnson and John Cusack as Richard Nixon. There’s no word so far as to who will play Reagan, not to mention Harry S Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, Ford and Carter.
Waiting in the wings is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, tracing the life of the 16th president. Currently in post-production and scheduled for release this year, it boasts another heavyweight cast, headed up by no less than Daniel Day Lewis as Abe, plus Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Jackie Earle Haley and David Strathairn. You’d need a calculator to tot up the number of Oscars wins and nominations shared by that lot!
Finally, and perhaps most promising of all, is Hyde Park On Hudson, which is also due for release this year. As it involves both an American president and the British monarchy, it’s a good bet for a hit on both sides of The Pond. The story of the relationship between Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, it focuses on the weekend in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited New York.
The cast is gold plated. Playing FDR is Bill Murray, who to my mind has been underrated as a straight actor, with the wonderful Laura Linney as his cousin. They’re supported by a classy brigade of Brits, including Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth, Sam West as George VI and Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt. While the opening date has yet to be confirmed, the rumour mill is suggesting early December, making it a possible Oscar contender. It could also mean an appearance at the London Film Festival and, if that’s the case, that’ll be me at the front of the queue for tickets. I reckon it has “winner” written all over it!
Recent portrayals of American presidents have been mainly confined to the small screen, with series including The Kennedys and John Adams or TV movies such as The Special Relationship. Their appearances on the big screen have been few – most recently a cameo of a foul-mouthed Nixon in Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar – and you have go to back to 2008 to find movies where a president is the main player. Oliver Stone’s W was a disappointment, despite a strong performance from Josh Brolin in the title role and a wonderfully seething Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. It paled into insignificance against the other presidential movie of that year, Frost/Nixon, the gripping portrayal of David Frost’s interviews with the ever-evasive Richard Nixon.
With any luck, The Butler, Lincoln and Hyde Park On Hudson will all be truly presidential – in more than one sense of the word.