UK Release Date: 27th October 2017
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, with the help of his wife, he finds a way to live outside of hospital with the help of a special wheelchair.
Given his high-tech travails as a jewellery-loving Hobbit and a photorealistic ape, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a little strange that Andy Serkis‘s directorial debut is a glossy drama set among the British middle classes in the 20th century. In fact, it was originally slated to be his effects-heavy Jungle Book film, before Disney beat him to the punch. The film that has finally made it to the screen is Breathe, in which Serkis and producing partner Jonathan Cavendish craft an emotional love letter to Cavendish’s father – one of Britain’s most significant disability campaigners.
It’s a film that radiates warmth and is produced with a clear love for the real people behind the story. Serkis directs the film in a way that’s a little workmanlike, but he gives the actors room to express their complex characters. That’s a leeway that wasn’t provided to the stars of Goodbye Christopher Robin earlier this year, who were largely forced to do all of their acting through their oh-so-frightfully posh, Downton-inspired accents. Chocolate box depictions of Britain are seemingly on trend at the moment and Breathe is certainly a cut above the competition.
Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) is a well-to-do tea broker dividing his time between England and Kenya, bringing along his wife Diana (Claire Foy). He is struck down with polio and paralysed, leaving him condemned to spending his life in hospital on a respirator. With the help of Diana and inventor friend Teddy (Hugh Bonneville), he is able to leave the hospital and retain a more mobile life in a state of the art wheelchair.
The strength of Breathe comes not in its story, which is standard inspirational weepie fare, but from Serkis’s perspective. As with many actors-turned-directors, Serkis knows exactly when to rein things in so the actors can shine. Andrew Garfield and, especially, Claire Foy take advantage of the space and fill every room with depth. Garfield does a lot with just his face, with his silent pleas for death when his paralysis first hits evoking real heartbreak. It is a film, though, that has a real lightness of touch when it needs it and is unafraid to puncture the tension with the kind of dark laughs that made The Theory of Everything so compelling.
Despite its overly sentimental gloss and rather workmanlike filmmaking, there’s a clear emotional pulse to Breathe. It’s slight and sentimental, but Serkis creates a consistently affecting tone. It’s a little too obviously trite and it’s tough to identify with the cosy oh-that’s-a-bit-of-a-bugger-let’s-play-a-spot-of-cricket Middle England in which the characters live. With that said, the fact the emotional pulse exists at all is a credit to the stellar work of Garfield and Foy. You would have to be an audience member with a heart of steel not to be at least a little bit moved.
Pop or Poop?
Andy Serkis finally makes his big-screen directorial debut with Breathe which, despite its sentimental trappings and fairly standard cinematic style, is a touching tale of triumph over genuine adversity.
There’s a clear loving hand behind the camera and, with that in mind, it’s hard to cast too cynical an eye over what Serkis and his team has produced.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.