Franklin D. Roosevelt (Kenneth Branagh) is an up and coming politician in 1920. Though having been the vice-presidential candidate of ill-fated James Cox campaign, his political future is bright. However, a year later, Roosevelt contracts polio and loses the ability to walk, putting his political career on hold.
A few years later, Roosevelt has been hiding out in Florida when he is invited to a resort in rural Georgia, managed by Tom Loyless (Tim Blake Nelson) where the waters are said to help paralyzed people walk. The movie details Roosevelt's time spent Warm Springs, his purchase and transforming it into a polio rehabilitation center, to his own personal transformation into understanding the suffering many people like him endured, and ends at the 1928 Democratic National Convention where he would give his nomination to Al Smith, and resume his political career.
It was critically acclaimed and was nominated for sixteen Emmys, winning five and a Director's Guild of America award for Joseph Sargent.
Compare Sunrise at Campobello, a somewhat more historically accurate portrayal of this period in FDR's life.
- Artistic License History: Closer to Very Loosely Based on a True Story, actually. FDR never went on an Achilles in His Tent withdrawal from public life as the movie suggests; in Real Life he was thinking the whole time about how he might continue to advance his career despite being crippled by polio. The therapist character played by Kathy Bates suggest that Roosevelt's fake hip-swinging walk isn't a substitute for "the real work"; in fact that was as good as it got for FDR, who remained paralyzed until his death. And his triumphant return to public life, the nominating speech for Al Smith at the 1924 Democratic Convention, took place before he first visited Warm Springs, Georgia.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The treatment of the handicapped can disgust the modern viewer. A good example is when Roosevelt learns that a teenager crippled by polio was locked up in a baggage car with no food. In our time, the railroad would have sued since laws now require that public places accommodate people with disabilities. Even Franklin's mother called the inn a leper colony.
- The film argues that Franklin's disgust at the treatment of handicapped individuals turned him into man that would fight human suffering as president.
- Fake American: The Irish Kenneth Branagh plays Franklin Roosevelt.
- Handicapped Badass: The film shows Franklin's growth from an isolated, depressed man, to the confident, tenacious politician he would becomes His badass is especially shown when he knocks down the train conductor that locked a kid in a baggage car.
- Hiding the Handicap: Franklin does this out of political necessity. A technique that involves using his son's strength, moving his torso, leg braces, and cane allowed him to make people think he could walk on his own. One of the photographers is physically prevented from taking a picture of Franklin being carried.note
- Hilarious in Hindsight: In-universe. Al Smith, whose nomination by Franklin at the 1928 Democratic National Convention would bring Franklin back to public life, was asked by an aide if he feared creating a rival. Al Smith replied, "Mark my words, he'll be dead in a year." Anybody who has glanced at history book will tell you that's not what happened.
- Honest Advisor: Louis Howe (David Paymer) who actively encourages Franklin to return to public life, ensures he remains in contact with his political allies, and would prefer he not invest his time in Warm Springs, and create a polio rehab clinic. He also pushes Eleanor into entering public life, turning from a shy woman into the powerful public figure she would become in later life.
- My Beloved Smother: Sara Roosevelt had a strong influence on Franklin that lasted into his adulthood. She prefered that Franklin give up politics and live at home with her.
- Non-Idle Rich: Franklin was a vice-presidential candidate and assistant secretary to the Navy before reorganizing a run-down resort into a rehabilitation center. We know where he went from there.
- Oscar Bait: FutureUSPresident overcoming a disability to return to politics? Yep. Did it win Emmys? Yes it did.
- Physical Therapy Plot: FDR goes into physical therapy after contracting polio. He hopes to resume his political career once he has finished rehabilitation.
- Politically Correct History: Averted.
- The train station is divided the "white" and "colored" section.
- Tom Loyless himself was forced out of the newspaper business because he had "offended the sensibilities of a local civic group. In Real Life, Tom Loyless had been one of the few newspaper editors in Georgia to support Leo Frank, whose trial and lynching led to the rebirth of the KKK.
- One of the black employees at the resort is reluctant to shake the hand of the one of the white polio victims from New York.
- The Roaring '20s: The film is set from 1920, when Roosevelt was Democratic party's vice-presidential candidate, to 1928, when Roosevelt made his political comeback at the Democratic National Convention.