Breathe (2017)

  • Time: 117 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Andy Serkis
  • Cast: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Miranda Raison, Hugh Bonneville


When Robin is struck down by polio at the age of 28, he is confined to a hospital bed and given only a few months to live. With the help of Diana’s twin brothers (Tom Hollander) and the groundbreaking ideas of inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Robin and Diana dare to escape the hospital ward to seek out a full and passionate life together – raising their young son, traveling and devoting their lives to helping other polio patients.

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  • There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of inspiring true stories as evidenced by Breathe, which features superb performances by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy and marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis, best known for his remarkably nuanced performance capture roles such as Gollem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The real driving force behind this moving biopic, however, is producer Jonathan Cavendish who designed the film as a tribute to his parents, Robin and Diana, both of whom certainly prove that love can conquer nearly all.

    Serkis and screenwriter William Nicholson waste no time in establishing the couple’s romance. Robin (Garfield) is a dashing tea broker, Diana (Foy) a famous heartbreaker. Though her twin brothers Blogg and David (both played by the ever wonderful Tom Hollander) warn her against rushing into the romance too quickly, Diana’s head and heart are set. She and Robin are soon married and she finds herself in Kenya, where they enjoy an extended honeymoon and where Robin also conducts his business. Everything seems picture perfect for the lucky lovers but, soon after Diana falls pregnant, Robin is struck down with a severe case of polio, resulting in him being paralysed and having to rely on a mechanical ventilator in order to breathe.

    Given mere months left to live, Robin falls into a deep depression, even refusing to see Diana or their baby. Transported back to England at her insistence and placed in a hospital with other immobilised patients, all he wishes is to be left to die but Diana is determined for him not to give up. She wants him to live and know their son: “You’re not dead and that’s that.” Indeed, his will is revived when, against the doctor’s wishes, she takes him out of the hospital and installs him in a country house. From thereon in, Robin’s world expands more and more, especially once he begins collaborating with friend and inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), with whom he develops a wheelchair with a built-in respirator.

    Breathe’s blithe approach to a generally sobersided subject may strike viewers as bizarre, yet there’s something to be admired about the film honouring the spirit of its central characters and the bonhomie they shared with their friends and family. Whilst the film does dip its toes into serious waters every now and again, the ethos of fun and camaraderie are never far behind. Take, for instance, the scene in which the Cavendish family are in Spain – Robin’s ventilator short-circuits and they’re stranded by the roadside. Instead of bemoaning their situation, they turn it into a celebration as villagers gather around them, singing, dancing and drinking. As Teddy notes when he finally arrives to fix the ventilator, Robin could have had the decency to at least look near death.

    Whilst Breathe may come off as too soft-edged and pleasant – one never truly knows either Robin or Diana – it is nevertheless an enormously well-put together production. Serkis navigates the material with ease and Garfield and Foy are a tremendously well-matched pair, both embodying steel and vulnerability as they get on with the business of living.

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