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Olivia Williams in 'Hyde Park on Hudson' (Photo: Nicola Dove/Focus Features)
Olivia Williams in ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ (Photo: Nicola Dove/Focus Features)

In the new period drama Hyde Park on Hudson, out on Friday (December 7), First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, played by English actress Olivia Williams, wanted the visiting British King and Queen to drop their airs and graces.

“She was forcing the King and Queen to relax and not make the people around them feel inferior — it was an important message,” says Williams.

The royal couple was on an important mission arriving at the President and First Lady’s home in upstate New York, aiming to win America’s backing in the looming conflict with Germany in 1939.

President Roosevelt wanted to help but knew there was a strong isolationist streak in America at the time and that it might be tough to bring the public along. It wasn’t helped by the fact that some people in the U.S. thought the British monarch was distant.

A publicity stunt was hatched in which the royals would be photographed eating hot dogs to show they were just like everyone else.

Williams says the First Lady took the view that “these people may be royals but on a Sunday we have a picnic, and we eat hot dogs, and they won’t be provided with a knife and fork.”

The plan worked. Bill Murray, who plays President Roosevelt, says: “When the King of England bit that hot dog and all the flash bulbs went off the great headline in The New York Times said, ‘King of England Eats Hot Dog, Asks for Another,'” and that went all over the United States, and people just went, ‘Hey, the guy eats a hot dog. He’s all right.'”

Hyde Park on Hudson opens in cinemas on December 7th.

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By Tom Brook