DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis STARRING: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ed Speleers, Diana Rigg PRODUCER: Jonathan Cavendish SCREENWRITER: William Nicholson MUSIC: Nitin Sawhney CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson EDITOR: Masahiro Hirakubo GENRE: Biographical Drama PRODUCTION COMPANY: Participant Media, Silver Reel, BBC Films, British Film Institute, Embankment Films, The Imaginarium DISTRIBUTOR: Bleecker Street (US), STX Entertainment (UK) COUNTRY: United Kingdom, United States LANGUAGE: English RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and (Diana Blacker) Claire Foy meet at a cricket match in a country estate in England, fall in love at first sight, go through courtship, get married, and start an idyllic life in Kenya where Robin is a tea broker. At age 28, not long after his wife announces she is pregnant, Robin is stricken with a rare polio that paralyzes him from the neck down, unable to breathe without a respirator. This necessitates their return to England for Robin to get adequate medical attention. The doctors give him a few months to live, but both he and his wife will defy medical authority and arrange to break out of the hospital. “Because she loves, he lives”—surrounded by supportive friends the couple come to experience a rich, full life until Robin dies at age 64.
Movies classified as “based on a true story” are seen to have a strong appeal to moviegoers, possibly due to the fact that it’s in the human DNA to want to be inspired. Breathe has succeeded in inspiring audiences ever since its debut at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival last September, largely through the remarkable portrayal of its lead actor Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge, Silence) well-matched by Foy’s as the courageous and devoted wife. The cinematography creates the mood as Breathe takes the viewer on a virtual tour of the lush English countryside, the African landscape ablaze with sunsets, and then plunges one down to the depths of despair upon close-ups of Robin’s wheezing respirator and a morgue-like facility for the disabled in Germany. Spoiling the authenticity of this albeit romanticized true story is the failure of makeup and prosthetics to age the couple—it’s distracting to see Foy without wrinkles or signs of weariness in the face all through those decades of fighting for her husband’s life. Likewise, Garfield hardly ages except for a few wrinkles and some gray hair before he dies—surely signs of struggle might have even enhanced his passion to stay alive
Breathe is indeed “a heartwarming celebration of human possibility” in that it depicts the triumph of human hope and creativity over overwhelming odds. Instead of allowing a life threatening disease (which struck Robin Cavendish when the polio vaccine had been in use for only two years) to imprison the patient, family and friends pioneered efforts to fulfill Robin’s dream. Oxford University professor and a friend of Robin, Dr. Tom Halle (played by Hugh Bonneville) invented a wheelchair with a built-in respirator, and subsequently more elaborate contraptions that not only freed Cavendish from confinement to a bed but also enabled him to travel the world as an advocate with the battle cry “Why do you imprison your disabled? Set them free!” A year after Robin died, his wife Diana, son Jonathan and his wife Leslie established the Robin Cavendish Memorial Fund dedicated to “advancing the health and saving the lives of people with disabilities.”
While Breathe is a well-applauded cinematic rendition of a true-to-life experience, CINEMA notes that the movie plays down the fact that Cavendish was an atheist, which should explain the circumstances of his death. The movie therefore should be seen in this light, and young audiences should be guided accordingly.