Breathe | Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy bring pluck and joy to stirring true-story drama
With Her Love, He Lived.
Struck down by polio while working in 1950s colonial-era Kenya, dashing upper-class Englishman Robin Cavendish is given only weeks to live. As shown by stirring true-story drama Breathe starring former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield and The Crown’s Claire Foy, Robin and his loyal wife Diana proved the medics wrong – and changed perceptions of disability into the bargain. Robin didn’t just survive; he lived life to the full.
Based on the lives of producer Jonathan Cavendish’s own parents, Breathe marks the directing debut of Andy Serkis, who turns from the motion-capture marvels he performed in such roles as Gollum, King Kong and The Planet of the Apes’ Caesar to bring to the screen a drama rooted in real life rather than fantasy.
Serkis doesn’t spare us the gritty reality of Robin’s existence: paralysed from the neck down, he is totally dependent on a respirator. Yet the film’s abiding mood is one of high-spirited joy. Indeed, despite the grim medical prognosis, things are anything but dour after Claire smuggles her husband out of the polio ward and with the help of friends and family sets about creating a fulfilling life for him. Oxford professor Teddy Hall, played by Downton’s Hugh Bonneville, invents a wheelchair with a built-in respirator, while her twin brothers Bloggs and David (Tom Hollander, doubling up) supply further exuberant support.
As disability dramas go, Breathe won’t leave you gasping. But if it lacks The Theory of Everything’s emotional heft, it remains an inspiring and affecting tale.
Certificate 12. Runtime 113 mins. Director Andy Serkis
Breathe is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from STX international and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
By Grace Morris