BREATHE (UK/12A/117 mins)
Directed by Andy Serkis. Starring Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Diana Rigg, Dean-Charles Chapman.
THE PLOT:
Former soldier Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) meets Diana (Claire Foy) at a cricket match in 1958 and it seems like a match made in heaven. They marry and he soon whisks her away to Africa. While there, tragedy strikes when Robin is struck down with polio. His nervous system and spine shuts down, paralysing him from the neck down. Even breathing naturally becomes impossible. The only thing keeping him alive is the respirator machine he’s attached to. Without it, he’d be dead within two minutes. Initially having dark thoughts, he soon finds another reason to live thanks to Diana and their impending child. However, Robin is not content to live out his life trapped in a hospital ward. With the help of friend Teddy (Hugh Bonneville), he becomes mobile thanks to a wheelchair that does the breathing for him…
THE VERDICT: Another version of The Jungle Book was intended to be performance capture wizard Andy Serkis’ directorial debut. That’s not out until next year. Instead he’s put his first foot forward into the directing arena with an altogether different, simpler film. ‘Breathe’ is a touching, self-assured debut based on the real lives of Robin and Diana Cavendish. As described by Serkis, it’s not a film about severe disability but is actually a love story that goes on despite the challenges ahead. It helps to have Robin’s son Jonathan as a film producer, as he lends an air of intimacy and authenticity to the storytelling.
William Nicholson’s deft screenplay packs in 36 years of these lives into just under 2 hours. The danger here is that it could end up being too compressed or having too wide a focus. By centring the story around the relationship between Robin and Diana, the story becomes more deeply involving with the years passing by as a mere fact. The gift of time is interesting to observe here. Robin was initially given six months to live, a terminally ill prisoner trapped first within his own body and then within his confined environment. But by challenging accepted beliefs about polio sufferers and their iron lungs (subtly demonstrated in one key sequence), he gave life back to himself and others. Time became a liberation, rather than a ticking bomb.
Serkis has certainly paid attention on film sets, working with the masters like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. He has a firm grasp of his story and coaxes very natural, precise performances from his cast. Garfield continues to make interesting role choices, delivering a warm and at times humorous take on Robin. The real backbone here is Foy – the next Lisbeth Salander. She holds the film together effortlessly. Whether in performance capture or in the flesh, Serkis is adept at finding what makes a character tick. His directorial style avoids flashy camerawork and favours getting in close with his actors.
The phrases ‘inspiring’, ‘life-affirming’ and ‘uplifting’ are bandied about too often, to the point where they become clichés. ‘Breathe’ is a film that fully deserves them, without any clichés attached. It’s a personal story that takes on a larger perspective, simply and effectively told. Go see.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    Andy Serkis isn’t the director that you would expect to be at the helm of the latest uplifting real-life love story based on a man who contracts polio in the 1950’s and survives for 40 years with the help of his dedicated and beloved wife. Best known for his motion-capture performances in “The Lord of the Rings” and in the “Planet of the Apes”, Serkis makes a big move here by tackling a subject close to his heart and he does so with sensitivity and delicacy. Inevitably this film will be compared to “The Theory Of Everything” and while there are many parallels, this film has notably less depth and intensity. Jonathan Cavendish is one of Serkis’ best friends and his producing partner and it is the true story of his parents that forms the plot for this touching film.

    We move quickly through the initial stages of the relationship between tea-broker Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and Diana (Claire Foy). They meet, fall in love, quickly marry and Diana becomes pregnant. The happy couple enjoy a blissfully carefree life until a sudden attack leaves Robin paralysed and diagnosed with polio and only three months to live. Robin is now dependent on a respirator to live, cannot speak and can only barely open his eyes, they are devastated – their lives are turned upsidedown. Robin becomes depressed and suicidal but Diana will not give up, she wants him to spend time with her and their new son. She takes charge and, against medical advice, she takes him out of the hospital to be cared for more comfortably at home bringing all the necessary equipment with her. This decision is the start of a much more exciting and eventful life for the pair than they had ever imagined. It’s not long before they
    are collaborating with their friend and inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) to construct a groundbreaking mobile version of his breathing machine that means he can move, sit up, be brought outside and even travel in the car. Defying all odds, Robin and Diana become activists helping to improve the quality of life for all disabled polio sufferers around the world.

    “Breathe” is an emotional and immensely heart-warming movie. The powerful performances of Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish and Claire Foy as his extraordinary wife Diana are what give the film its heart and elevate it above another fit-for-tv drama. Although Garfield spends most of the film only moving his head, he gives a superb performance which conveys a range of emotions and gives credibility to his character’s tragic situation. Claire Foy (from Netflix’s “The Crown”) as his supportive wife also gives a sincere and compassionate
    performance. The supporting cast includes Hugh Bonneville as Teddy, an inventor and wine lover and Tom Hollander who brings some comic relief, playing the sweetly idiotic identical twin brothers of Diana. I liked that this film, while having a bleakly tragic story at its core, remains optimistic throughout. Robin doesn’t lose his wish to live until the very end and he even brings about changes for disabled patients all over the world who had been living in horrific conditions, as we saw in one visit to a German medical facility. It’s an inspirational tale which reminds us that love and the support of our loved ones is what keeps us going and gives us the will to live in spite of all adversity.