Breathe is the directorial debut of Andy Serkis, best known for his motion capture work playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises. Starring Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield with supporting roles from Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander and our very own David Wilmot, Breathe tells the true life love story of Robin Cavendish and his wife Diana.
In 1958 on a trip to Kenya, Robin contracted polio which left him paralysed from the neck down. His wife Diana was pregnant with their son Jonathan at the time. Jonathan is also one the producers of the film.
In the 1950s polio patients were confined to a life in bed hooked up to a breathing machine to stay alive. Diana refused to abandon her husband and let him die so she used all her ingenuity to get Robin home. With the help of their inventor friend Teddy, played in the film by Bonneville, they designed a wheelchair with a respirator to allow Robin to become more mobile and independent.
This allowed the family to travel extensively and create some degree of normality. With the backing of an investor, the Cavendish’s were able to manufacture the chairs to help other people with polio and similar paralyses. In doing so they transformed the lives of many disabled people.
I must admit this reviewer was expecting a harrowing two and a half hour film depicting a man and his family fighting against the odds. The sprightly performances from the cast, the humour and laugh out loud moments took me by surprise.
One of the most humorous scenes comes from their ill-fated trip to Spain when the respirator’s wires blow. They must manually pump air to allow Robin to breathe while they wait for Teddy to fly in with a replacement.The whole Spanish village comes out to pray, dance and drink and keep everyone entertained.
Serkis has focused the film on the positive side choosing to mostly ignore the day to day battle of living as a paraplegic and the effect it has on Robin’s wife and son. At times I found it focused on the positives too much and some serious issues became sugar coated. However, there was one grisly scene which will stay with me. On a trip to Germany to demonstrate the wheelchair they are taken into a sterile white room where polio patients are encased in iron lungs with only their heads visible.
The blank expression on their faces imprisoned in their iron tombs wouldn’t be out of place in a horror film.If you’re looking for a feel-good film which will make you laugh out loud, leave you inspired and shed the odd tear Breathe is the one for you.
Review by Claire Millane, a Dublin based actor writer and one of the presenters of No-Budget, a show for independent filmmakers. Click on the link to discover