Breathe (2017)

Breathe (2017)

Taglines: With Her Love, He Lived.

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.

Breathe is a 2017 biographical drama film directed by Andy Serkis, from a screenplay by William Nicholson. It stars Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Ed Speleers and Dean-Charles Chapman, and tells the story of Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down by polio at age 28.

In September 2016, Bleecker Street acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film. In February 2017, STX Entertainment acquired U.K. distribution rights to the film. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2017. It was also screened at the Opening Night Gala at the BFI London Film Festival. It was released in the United States on 13 October 2017, and the United Kingdom on October 27, 2017.

Breathe (2017)

Film Review for Breathe

“Breathe,” Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, is an undeniably well-intentioned film. Serkis directs this true story of the parents of one of his best friends and producing partners, Jonathan Cavendish, and he does so with sensitivity and empathy. It’s hard to even imagine making a film about your parents, much less if their story was this essential to the quality of life for disabled people. If you’re thinking that making a story about someone that important to you might lead to the air of simplification that comes with hero worship, you’re not wrong.

Of course, Jonathan Cavendish and his best friend should place Robin and Diana Cavendish on pedestals as high as they can reach, but that approach doesn’t really allow for three-dimensional filmmaking. The result is a film that sentimentalizes and softens what was clearly a very difficult situation, turning something that should be effective and honest into something that too often feels manipulative. The performances and the inherent power of the true story keep it from being a complete disaster, but one hopes Serkis moves on to more challenging material with his follow-up.

Serkis and writer William Nicholson get the courtship of Diana (Claire Foy) and Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) out of the way pretty quickly. Before the credits have really ended, they’re madly in love. They quickly marry and Diana gets pregnant with the baby who will become producer Jonathan Cavendish. Then tragedy strikes when Robin develops polio, told he will only live for a few more months, and that he has irreversible paralysis. At first, he can’t even speak, able to only barely move his eyes. He’s put on a respirator in a hospital, and basically told that’s where he will die. He seems to come to terms with this, asking to be put out of his misery, but Diana convinces him to fight, even if just to get as much time as possible with his new son.

Breathe (2017) - Claire Foy

As he begins that long fight, he takes the battle much further than anyone had before. When he and Diana are basically told that he’ll live out his few remaining days in a hospital bed, they devise a way to take the equipment needed to keep him alive back to their house, despite the protestations of the head doctor. The Cavendishes then take that transportability a step further, figuring out a way to attach a respirator to a chair, and allowing Robin not only to get out of the house, but to travel. He becomes an advocate for the disabled, and someone who really pushed to change the way the medical industry looked at quality of life for people once presumed unable to have any.

Obviously, that’s a heartwarming story. And Garfield and Foy play the Cavendishes with a great deal of respect and admiration—too much so, if I’m being honest. “Breathe” never asks, much less answers, any of the really difficult questions about what the Cavendishes’ lives must have been like. There’s a brief moment early on in which Robin wants to die and another moment halfway through when he suggests Diana take a lover, but those kind of truthful moments of pain and confusion are too rare. This is a deeply sentimental version of a story that demanded more honesty and depth. And the final act feels purposefully manipulative, trying to pull the heartstrings in a way that the true story merits but the film hasn’t really earned. The characters here are too flat and one can’t shake the feeling that it’s betraying the truth of their story to tell it with such a gauzy, TV movie sheen on top of it.

There is a metatextual element of “Breathe” that’s almost more interesting than the movie when one thinks about who made it. Jonathan Cavendish became a producer, and films are often ways to transport people to places they wouldn’t otherwise go and give voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. I’d almost rather watch a documentary about Robin Cavendish in which the producer could draw that line between how his father transformed the world with his deep empathy for those often ignored to how his son now makes movies designed to change the world in their own way.

Even Serkis, who may not first seem like the person you’d expect to do this kind of prestige project, makes total sense if you think about how much he too wants to revolutionize his industry in a way that makes the impossible possible. I firmly believe that movie history books will be written about how much breakthrough work Serkis has done with films like “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “The Lord of the Rings.” And he’s such a creative force that I could easily see him being a great director someday too. He just needs to take the kind of risks and seek the kind of breakthroughs he has in his motion-capture work, and try to do more than he’s told he can, just like the father of one of his best friends.

Breathe Movie Poster (2017)

Breathe (2017)

Directed by: Andy Serkis
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, David Butler, Tom Hollander, Ed Speleers, Miranda Raison, Emily Bevan, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Streeter, Jonathan Hyde
Screenplay by: William Nicholson
Production Design by: James Merifield
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Film Editing by: Masahiro Hirakubo
Costume Design by: Charlotte Walter
Set Decoration by: Sara Wan
Art Direction by: Kirk Doman, Marcus Wookey
Music by: Nitin Sawhney
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images.
Distributed by: Bleecker Street (United States), STX international (United Kingdom)
Release Date: October 13, 2017 (United States), October 27, 2017 (United Kingdom)