Postcard: New York

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 4:44pm

It was the inauguration of Barack Obama's second term as president a couple of weeks ago, and many Americans used their day off to watch Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. There have not been many films about US presidents, heroic or otherwise, as Hollywood considers politics too divisive to be good business. But there have been some notable attempts.

Films always reflect the times in which they are made, as much as - or, perhaps, more than - the times in which they are set. So it's natural that Lincoln feels remarkably contemporary in style and content. Then, as now, arms must be twisted to ensure political gains, opponents must be won over, and political operatives hired to "encourage" Abraham Lincoln's opponents to vote for the abolition of slavery with offers of patronage.

The obnoxious make-up of the House of Representatives in the Lincoln era does not seem that much different to today's despised House. Many of Obama's supporters, disillusioned with his desire to compromise with the obstructionist Republican party, would probably like him to follow Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, an entertaining fantasy in which he took out his enemies with an axe.

Away from the White House, Hyde Park on Hudson, which features Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is a gentle movie which focuses on the 32nd president's domestic life to illustrate his political skills and looks at the influence of his personality on his work. FDR's skill at juggling the intricacies of female attention with the intricacies of politics reveals a man who knew how to use his charm to get things done.

Richard Nixon, one of the least loved presidents and instigator of the Watergate scandal, has fared surprisingly well in films. His inner conflicts, his hubris, and his many insecurities led to an almost Shakespearean treatment from Oliver Stone in Nixon and Robert Altman in Secret Honour. Stone's film has Nixon ruminating on the pressures of his office and his failings in a way that resembles a gruff American King Lear.

Even Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, a retelling of Nixon's confessional TV interview with David Frost, manages to humanise the man.

It's a movie treatment President Obama will be hoping he never has to endure.

Hyde Park on Hudson opens on Thursday; Lincoln opens on Feb 21