After polio threatens his political career in the early 1920s, Franklin D. Roosevelt desperately searches for a cure to his newly acquired disease, hoping to regain the use of his legs. He learns of a promising spa in Warm Springs, Ga., and travels there, only to find it dilapidated. Determined to overcome polio, Roosevelt invests in the spa's revitalization and sets about recovering, aided by the support of his wife and physical therapist. Written by
In spite of some liberties being taken with events and personages for dramatic effect, this is a remarkably well-done retelling of the first four years after Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with infantile paralysis.
This version is less sentimental and perhaps more truthful than "Sunrise at Campobello", Dory Shary's play and film, from 1958 and 1960, covering the same events. Perhaps that is because many of the people involved were still living at the time, and the events and personages were still in living memory for so many in the audience for that piece, in 1960.
This version, however, minces no words and does not turn away from the grim reality of all the challenges Franklin faced, emotional and physical, in dealing with his illness. The performances of all involved are excellent. It is a challenge to portray people so well known to so many, and these actors, all of them, shine in their roles.
Central to all of this of course must be the performance of the actor playing FDR. For many, after "Sunrise at Campobello", only Ralph Bellamy could play Roosevelt, and he did it with great panache, even to repeating his performance twice, twenty and thirty years later, in the miniseries "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" in the 80s.
Without a doubt Kenneth Branagh gives what must be one of the best performances on film I have ever seen. He never descends to caricature or impersonation, he does not really look like FDR, he only gives suggestions of Franklin's speech rhythms and accent. But this actor inhabits the character as written so completely, with such wide emotional, physical and vocal range that I for one was totally convinced. This is truly a great film performance, worthy of any awards that it gets. And I hope it is recognized.
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