Movie Review: Breathe

It’s coming up to awards season and that means our cinema screens will be filled in the coming weeks and months with the films that are being touted to take home golden statuettes. From the UK comes BREATHE, the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, who prove that love and a whole lot of courage can conquer almost anything.

As the film opens, it’s pastoral England in the mid-1950s and Robin (Andrew Garfield, SILENCE; HACKSAW RIDGE) is enjoying a game a cricket with his mates at the country club while a young Diana Blacker (Claire Foy, TV’s THE CROWN) watches from the side. Robin is immediately smitten with Diana and, before long, they are married and flying off to Kenya where he has started up a tea-brokering business. A few months later and back in the UK, Robin is suddenly struck down with paralysis from the neck down. Diagnosed with polio at age 28, his doctor gives him just months to live. Diana, however, will hear nothing of it. She’s just had their child, Jonathan, and she wants her son to grow up with a father. Robin eventually accepts Diana’s will and asks her to get him out of the hospital – something that had never been done before with polio patients. With the help of their group of friends, Diana spirits Robin out and moves him into their new home in the countryside. Free from the oppressive confines of the hospital, Robin now sees a future where he is mobile and he asks their friend, Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville, TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY; PADDINGTON) to come up with wheelchair that has a portable respirator built into it. Years go by and Robin continues to defy medical odds as he and Diana try to live out their lives as normally as possible, giving Jonathan the father that he deserves. As Teddy refines his invention giving Robin even more freedom, Robin becomes an advocate for people around the world who are confined to an iron lung, a care facility or both.

It’s hard not to see BREATHE as BAFTA-bait what with its story of a physically-challenged character who overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to live another day, and certainly, when the nominations will be announced, you should expect to see a few names from this film there. That being said, BREATHE is not a great film but it is a fairly good film, and how can anyone not feel something for Robin and Diana? The problem is that the Cavendishes are almost too perfect to be true. Even when they argue, you can see both their perspectives. Their friends, too, are also perfect. None of them has any personal issues and they are all there to help the couple out whenever they call. This halo effect stems from the film’s producer, who is none other than the real Jonathan Cavendish, who is partners with the film’s director, Andy Serkis – yes, that Andy Serkis (THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy; the new PLANET OF THE APES franchise; the new STAR WARS franchise), – in Imaginarium Productions, the creative digital studio that is behind the Performance Capture technology in which Serkis specialises. To its detriment, the film’s only antagonist is Robin’s doctor in the hospital and he barely registers on the meter. Even when adversity strikes Robin from time to time, as one would expect given his condition and the risks he takes, we never once think that this will be his final bow. He, Diana and their friends will just turn those tart lemons into delicious lemonade. Who knows? Maybe it really was like this but it doesn’t make for challenging viewing.

This is Serkis’ debut in the director’s chair and, for a first time, it’s good but safe work. His next directorial effort will come next year with the live-action version of JUNGLE BOOK, which is now in post-production. (Why we need another telling of this story, especially so soon after the last one, is beyond me.) To his credit, all the performances are good but that shouldn’t have been too much of a stretch given who he had to work with. The cast is a veritable Who’s Who of British television including Tom Hollander (TABOO) doing digital double duty as Diana’s twin brothers, Stephen Mangan (EPISODES), Ed Speleers (DOWNTON ABBEY), Dean-Charles Chapman (GAME OF THRONES) and Diana Rigg (GAME OF THRONES).

All in all, BREATHE is pretty good entertainment. It may win a few BAFTAs but I doubt it will win any OSCARs. Even so, it’s a good film to go see on a Saturday night.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, November 30th at 8:30 am HK time!

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