UK Release Date: 26th February 2018
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Andy Serkis
Writer: William Nicholson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Stephen Mangan, Hugh Bonneville, Dean-Charles Chapman
Synopsis: A father finds his active lifestyle ruined when he is paralysed by polio but he finds a way to live outside of hospital.
When I first saw Breathe last year, I found it enjoyable but rather disposable and cosy. It felt like a distinctly British, stiff upper lip drama packed with frightfully posh accents. That’s still what it is but, on a second viewing, it’s the charm that oozes through to produce a powerful drama with real heart and soul.
Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy are dynamite together in the leading roles as polio patient Robin Cavendish and his wife, Diana. He was struck down with polio while working in Africa in 1958 and hooked up to a respirator, with the expectation being he would live just a few months. Defiant, Robin and Diana were able to travel back to England, where they teamed up with an Oxford professor (Hugh Bonneville) to produce a special wheelchair that would enable Robin to live outside of hospital, allowing him to watch his son grow up.
One of the most interesting things about Breathe is the reverence and importance placed upon the story by those working on the movie. Robin and Diana’s son, Jonathan Cavendish, is the producer of the film and the founder of Imaginarium Studios with Andy Serkis. Breathe is Serkis’s directorial debut and his hand on the tiller is a firm one. It’s not a showy film, but it is one that’s elegant in style and confident enough in its actors to place the emphasis firmly on performance.
The script, commissioned by Cavendish and written by William Nicholson, is a neat construction that distils the essence and important information of the story into a straightforward drama, elevated by impressive dialogue. Nicholson finds plenty of room for levity in amidst the serious subject matter and it’s on a second viewing that it becomes clear that Breathe is actually a very funny movie, with Garfield bringing a sardonic, dark sense of humour to his predicament, similar to Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. One scene, in which a small festival of Spanish locals forms around them after a wheelchair breakdown, is pitched on just the right side of silliness.
That’s not to say, though, that Breathe lacks any of the emotional punch and sense of gravity that its story requires. The final scenes are fiercely powerful and early moments in which Garfield begs for death after his diagnosis are rich with tragedy thanks to the two believable central turns. It’s not a perfect movie from a craft standpoint but, as a directorial debut, it stands up about as well as can be expected and it’s a fitting tribute to the extraordinary man at its heart.
A handful of decent featurettes delving into the true story and the significance of Robin Cavendish as a pioneer for disability rights. Plus, a commentary with Jonathan and Andy Serkis.
Pop or Poop?
There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about Breathe, which is a rather workmanlike drama from a filmmaking perspective. It is, however, a work of real emotional poignancy told from a clear position of love and reverence. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy disappear into the roles of a couple who stuck by each other in the face of incredible adversity, helped by a colourful cast of supporting characters.
Andy Serkis’s future films will almost certainly be more visually adventurous than this one but, as a grounding in making a compelling drama, Breathe is a very good start.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Breathe is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.