TORONTO -- Hyde Park on Hudsondoesn'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.
Both films share depictions of England's King George VI, the stuttering royal who reluctantly sat upon the throne -- after brother Edward abdicated to marry an American divorcee -- as World War II threatened in 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 Park takes place several months earlier as Bertie, as he was known, becomes the first reigning British monarch to visit the United States. His mission: convince the president to support his country's fight against the 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 to eat his first-ever hot dog at a picnic organized by first lady Eleanor.
"It was a very conscious political act by Eleanor," says Michell, "showing the royals a kind of informal hospitality that they wouldn't find at the White 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 the United States, "There wasn't a lot of sympathy for this awkward stuttering man and plump wife," says the British director. "But a special relationship between these countries was struck on this summer weekend."
Many critics have called the cocktail-lubricated meeting of 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 less inspirational and confidence-building relationship than the one shared by Firth and co-star Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist.
Basically, their mutual handicaps seal their bond.
When the king declares, "This goddamned stutter," FDR counters with, "What stutter?" He then adds, "This goddamned polio." When the president follows with the observation that his paralyzed legs are never mentioned by his constituency, it's as if a weight is lifted off of Bertie.
Although the popularity of the previous movie led to a trimming of scenes that revolved around stuttering, Michell feels that any familiarity with King George VI will ultimately pay off and put the audience at ease. In other words, "We didn't have to start from scratch."