Warm Springs is an HBO production based on a lesser known part of the life of Franklin Roosevelt. While most folks know about FDR’s debilitating bout with polio, few are aware of his long-term association with a rural Georgia resort. It seems the water there is high in minerals, which allows those suffering from crippling diseases a chance to stand or even walk in the super buoyant water. HBO films has a nice track record with historical films. Truman is one of the best Presidential bio films I’ve ever seen. This film limits itself perhaps too much and becomes more about polio than it is about FDR. Kenneth Branagh delivers an above average performance as the single-minded future president. Cynthia Nixon literally steals the show with a clever portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt. The remaining cast including Kathy Bates holds up well.
My main complaints can be found in the script. For one thing it runs too long at almost exactly 2 hours. The situations become repetitive and slow. The dialogue seems out of place at times. Flowery period talk can be taken too far, and it certainly was here. The sets are magnificent as is the atmospheric photography. The historical aspect is played quite loosely. Don’t expect great historical accuracy here.
Future President FDR (Branagh) suffers from an adult onset of polio just as his political career has begun. The disease leaves him in a fit of depression until he discovers the healing waters of a rural Georgia resort.
The disc sports an average Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. I don’t recall hearing anything come out of my rear speakers. Bass was also pretty much inactive. Dialogue was well centered and quite clear. The impressive score also comes through very nicely.
Warm Springs is presented in a widescreen 16×9 aspect ratio. The original HBO version was full frame, so this is a treat. Colors carry an almost sepia tone quality. The effect is pleasant enough to accentuate the period atmosphere. The presence of this brown tint does effect black levels so that they are not so deep or detailed. This should not be considered a flaw, however, but artistic license.
There is a very short, 4 minute featurette, mostly applauding the actors and the characters they portrayed. A few deleted scenes seem to add little to the value of the film. A nice touch would have been to keep the short scene that introduces him as the President-Elect.
This film is less for history buffs than for the feel good crowd. If you enjoy a well set period piece with a relatively strong cast, this one is well worth at least a rental. I think the film does suffer from trying to be too much at once. The political elements don’t seem to belong in this film. There is, of course, somewhat of a political agenda in all of this. Whenever politically outspoken actors do historical heroes “I sense a conspiracy”.