Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and John and Elizabeth Edwards

The Roosevelt estate, the setting for 'Hyde Park on Hudson.'

Given that every time a politician does something in his sex life that prompts hysteria about his political career we debate all over again whether the wisest course is to resign or stand firm, it’s about time we got a movie about Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s marriage. As many authors, both popular and academic, have written, their arrangements were remarkable both in what they entailed and what they allowed: the Roosevelts’ agreement that they’d stop being physically intimate after Eleanor discovered Franklin’s first sustained affair, and their apparently mutual acceptance that the other would have long-term emotional, if not definitively physical, attachments, allowed the two of them to forge a remarkably effective public and political partnership, even if their marriage wasn’t conventional in the way Eleanor initially hoped it would be. Sure, it was a different age with regard to the press’s deference to public figures’ right to private lives. But still, the audacity of pulling it all off makes the Edwards’ decisions about John’s second run for president given his affair with Rielle Hunter look sort of small-time.

I’m heartened by the news that Olivia Williams has apparently emerged as the front-runner to play Eleanor, though she’ll never capture the impact that Eleanor’s looks had on her personality (and equally psyched that Laura Linney will play Lucy Mercer, Franklin’s secretary and long-term paramour). But it’s too bad the movie’s mostly going to be about King George VI’s visit to the Roosevelt estate, with the domestic drama of Eleanor discovering the affair as backdrop, not just because there are huge chronology issues there. The story isn’t that Eleanor Roosevelt discovered that her husband had an affair and survived like any other fictional Hollywood wronged wife, though I would love to see that historically appropriate makeover scene and historically appropriate gay best friend. It’s what Franklin and Eleanor built together, and the life Eleanor built for herself afterwards, that’s truly the extraordinary story.