30 April 2005 | lavatch
Mr. Branagh in Top Form as FDR!
I can vividly recall my fifth grade teacher telling us (in the late 1950s) that if Franklin Delano Roosevelt were still alive, people would come out in droves to reelect him to a fifth term as President. The brilliant film "Warm Springs" demonstrates Roosevelt's strength of character, his human touch, and his courage to overcome his physical limitation due to polio.
Director Joseph Sargent carefully recreates the environment of the 1920s, capturing the political climate, as well as rural poverty and segregation in the Deep South. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle deserves credit for her detailed character portraits and crisp dialogue, based upon sound historical research. It was impressive that the character of Eleanor Roosevelt was substantially developed alongside that of her husband. The costuming, décor, and set-ups in this film were first-rate. In the artistic values, every moment of this film rang true.
Kenneth Branagh and a stellar supporting cast (Kathy Bates, Cynthia Nixon, David Paymer, and Tim Blake Nelson are all standouts) embody their characters with meticulous attention to historical detail and accuracy. The range is impressive, as the cast must depict both the patrician society of New York and the hardscrabble world of rural Georgia.
Branagh probes deeply into the emotional life of Franklin as he struggles to come to terms with his disability. FDR is remembered as a ruthless politician. But the film is remarkable for the sensitive and vulnerable side of this titanic figure, which is often downplayed by historians. The only shortcoming of Branagh's rich performance was in his inability to capture the stentorian voice and the melodious inflections of FDR. Given Branagh's background in the theatre and in performing Shakespeare, it was surprising that his voice was not a closer match to one of the most distinctive sounds of the past century, which kept the spirits of Americans buoyed with his regular radio fireside chats.
"Warm Springs" is a made-for-television movie with all of the attributes of an Academy Award-winning feature film. The story was taut and economical as it focused on the years at Warm Springs prior to FDR's political ascendancy. In those years, Roosevelt drew upon his administrative skills by raising consciousness about the therapeutic value of the hot waters in the treatment of polio, leading to the establishment of the nonprofit Warm Springs Foundation in 1927. It was in this period that a great American discovered within himself the personal resolve and courage that would lead Americans through the Great Depression and World War II. From start to finish, this powerful yet sensitive film walks tall just like our thirty-second President.