Warm Springs (film)

Warm Springs is a 2005 made-for-television biography drama film directed by Joseph Sargent, written by Margaret Nagle, and starring Kenneth Branagh, Cynthia Nixon, Kathy Bates, Tim Blake Nelson, Jane Alexander, and David Paymer. The screenplay concerns U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1921 illness, diagnosed at the time as polio, his struggle to overcome paralysis, his discovery of the Warm Springs resort, his work to turn it into a center for the rehabilitation of polio victims, and his resumption of his political career. Roosevelt's emotional growth as he interacts with other disabled people at Warm Springs prepares him for the challenges he will face as President during the Great Depression.

Warm Springs
Warm Springs (film).jpg
Written byMargaret Nagle
Directed byJoseph Sargent
StarringKenneth Branagh
Cynthia Nixon
Kathy Bates
Tim Blake Nelson
Jane Alexander
David Paymer
Theme music composerBruce Broughton
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducerChrisann Verges
CinematographyRobbie Greenberg
EditorMichael Brown
Running time121 minutes
Production companiesHBO Films
Mark Gordon Productions
The Mark Gordon Company
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • April 30, 2005 (2005-04-30)


The film begins with a scene of the 1920 presidential election, in which Harvard educated lawyer, New York assemblyman and assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a rousing speech mentioning his cousin Teddy. Roosevelt is the vice presidential candidate on the ticket with James Cox. They are overwhelmingly defeated by Republican Warren Harding but the seeds are planted for Roosevelt's rise to greatness . In the beginning, he is portrayed as rather arrogant looked upon as a lightweight by opponents (they mock his initials FDR as standing for feather duster). His wife Eleanor discovers evidence of an affair and it is only the intervention of Roosevelt's domineering mother that prevents a divorce, however Eleanor is never able to forgive him and they only have a marriage of convenience. Roosevelt's friend and political advisor Louis Howe is determined to make him the President of the United States. However, Roosevelt is crippled by polio and forced to accept the possibility that he may never walk again. Throughout the ordeal he and Eleanor are able to bond and Roosevelt becomes more compassionate. He goes to Warm Springs for treatment and discovers the joy of being able to stand again in the heated pool. He used his trust fund to buy the run-down facility and refurbish it. The film ends with Roosevelt attending the nominating convention of Al Smith in 1928.


Actor Role
Kenneth Branagh Franklin D. Roosevelt
Cynthia Nixon Eleanor Roosevelt
Kathy Bates Helena Mahoney
Tim Blake Nelson Tom Loyless
Jane Alexander Sara Delano Roosevelt
David Paymer Louis McHenry Howe
Melissa Ponzio Lucy Mercer
Marianne Fraulo Missy LeHand
Brian F. Durkin Elliott Roosevelt
Turner Dixon James Roosevelt
Tripp Hennington Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr.
Sam Frihart John Roosevelt
Carrie Adams Anna Roosevelt
Wilbur Fitzgerald Al Smith
Felicia Day Eloise Hutchinson

Actress Jane Alexander, who plays FDR's mother Sara Delano Roosevelt, also played Eleanor Roosevelt in the acclaimed 1976 telefilm Eleanor and Franklin and its 1977 sequel Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. Many of the bit part actors in the film are actually physically disabled, though Branagh and several other of the principal actors are not. The withered appearance of Branagh's legs was achieved through the use of CGI.


The film was produced by HBO Films and directed by Joseph Sargent. The majority of the film was made at Warm Springs, Georgia and its surrounding locations. Other Georgia locations include Madison, Atlanta, and Gainesville.[1]

The producers strove to make sure that many of the physical details were as authentic as possible. For example, Kenneth Branagh, as Roosevelt, is seen driving the very same specially-equipped automobile that FDR was taught to drive at Warm Springs. The cottage that Roosevelt stays in during the film is one of the cottages that the real FDR stayed in. And the swimming pool in which the patients swim in is the actual therapeutic swimming pool at Warm Springs, refurbished specifically for the film.


The film received near-unanimous praise by the critics, and won five Primetime Emmy Awards out of sixteen nominations, including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Jane Alexander), Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special (Original Dramatic Score) (Bruce Broughton), Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie and Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or Movie. Joseph Sargent, who was also Emmy-nominated for his direction, did not win; however, he was nominated and won the Directors Guild of America Award. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle won the Writers Guild of America Award for her script. The film was also nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, but did not receive any.

Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found the film "more educational than entertaining", but said "Kenneth Branagh offers an exemplary turn".[2] Rob Owens of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said, ""Warm Springs" isn't a revolutionary or ground-breaking film, but it is a solid depiction of a time in the life of a figure who loomed large in 20th century American history."[3] Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune said that Branagh and Nixon "play these familiar icons as real, flesh-and-blood people", and also noted memorable work by Paymer, Bates, and Nelson.[4] Kevin McDonough of United Feature Syndicate called the film "intimate and powerful".[5]

Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel takes some issue with some of the writing, but says the film is "impressive" and that " Tim Blake Nelson is heart-rending as the spa's proprietor." He also noted that before Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, he listed the rehabilitation center as beneficiary of his $562,000 life insurance policy.[6]

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