DIR: Andy Serkis • WRI: William Nicholson • PRO: Jonathan Cavendish • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Masahiro Hirakubo• DES: James Merifield • MUS: Nitin Sawhney • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville
Robin Cavendish seemed to have an ideal life; a successful career as a tea broker that allowed him to travel to the furthest points of the globe, a beautiful and devoted wife, a baby on the way and his health. When the latter was tragically snatched from him in the form of the poliovirus, leaving Cavendish completely paralysed from the neck down, the restrictions of disabled care in 1960s England meant his life was to be confined to a hospital bed and a ventilation machine constantly whirring on the nightstand. But, thanks to a few dedicated friends, the constant care of his wife Diana, and his own steely determination, Cavendish would become the longest living responaut in British history and a tireless campaigner for the rights of disabled people worldwide. Breathe is a deeply empathetic take on a condition that devastates the lives of so many, but director Andy Serkis too often errs on the side of deifying his two main characters to the point that emotions begin to ring false. Inspirational? Yes, absolutely. Genuine? Not so much.
Thankfully, Andrew Garfield’s and Claire Foy’s performances keep the film from descending into ‘Hallmark-made-for-TV’ territory, each bringing a restraint that perfectly conveys the tangle of complex emotions neatly masked by the stereotypically stiff upper lip that marked the British constitution of the twentieth century. However, though the challenges the couple faced are made clear, Serkis never truly dives into the nitty-gritty realities of Cavendish’s condition, leaving the audience feeling that we have not been shown the full picture. The swiftness in which the narrative moves means that the many obstacles the couple faced are so quickly overcome as to have never been a real threat to begin with. Cavendish wants to leave the hospital? He leaves the hospital. He wants to go outside? Hey presto, their inventor friend whips up a wheelchair that can support his ventilator. It’s not that the film belittles these problems, it just doesn’t give itself enough time to reflect on the impact their resolution. Victories come so swift and with such ease, one can’t help but feel that a little more time was concentrated on the fight for these rights rather than the outcomes.
Overall, Breathe is a film with the best of intentions, but too twee an execution to connect with audiences on anything more than a surface level.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Breathe is released 27th October 2017