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The life of Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in an undated photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.. Reuters

Loosely based on a true story, Hyde Park on Hudson hits cinemas this month, chronicling the affair of Franklin D. Roosevalt’s relationship with his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney)

The life of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus), Hyde Park stars Bill Murray as FDR, and Laura Linney as Daisy Suckley, and approaches this controversial moment in US history, with a light touch.

“This is a film which actively concentrates on the private side of this president,” tells Michell. “We only taste very briefly his public side when we see him give one of his fireside chats early in the film,” Michell says. “It couldn’t be a smaller canvas. It’s a miniature moment in which things happen that make the world shake. It’s Hudson Valley Jane Austen, nothing seems to happen and yet everything happens.”

Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt (or FDR as he has been referred to throughout history) helped the American people regain faith in themselves during one of their darkest economic periods in history. Promising quick, vigorous action, FDR instilled hope in his people early on, famously asserting in his Inaugural Address that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Born in 1882 at Hyde Park, New York (now a national historic site) FDR attended Harvard University and Columbia Law School. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1905, he married Eleanor Roosevelt, despite the fierce criticism of his mother. They had six children, the first four in rapid succession, despite Eleanor’s alleged aversion to having sex with her husband (she was once famously quoted as considering it “an ordeal to be endured”).

Following the example of his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt entered public service through politics, but as a Democrat. He was later elected President in November 1932, to the first of four terms. By March there were 13,000,000 unemployed, and almost every bank was closed. In his first “hundred days,” he proposed a program to bring recovery to business and agriculture, relief to the unemployed and to those in danger of losing farms and homes, and reform.

In 1936 he was re-elected, and famously pledged the United States to the “good neighbour” policy. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Roosevelt directed organisation of the Nation’s manpower and resources for global war. 

But, Roosevelt was notorious for having affairs outside his marriage, including one with Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer. He has also been linked to Princess Märtha of Sweden, and his sixth cousin, friend and confidante, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, the affair that inspired Hyde Park on Hudson. 

After the Lucy Mercer affair, Elanour established a separate house in Hyde Park at Valkill, and increasingly devoted herself to various social and political causes. For the rest of their lives, the Roosevelts’ marriage was more of a political partnership than an intimate relationship. The emotional break in their marriage was so severe that when FDR asked Eleanor in 1942 – in light of his failing health – to come back home and live with him again, she refused. He died on April 12 1945 and was buried at his home in Hyde Park. Eleanor, who died in November 1962, was buried next to him.

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