Aida Vucic | 4/11/2017

Breathe is the true story of Robin Cavendish; a pioneer for disabled people who too was disabled, and while the film offers nothing unique in the way of its portrayal, it is by all accounts an affecting film. 

Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) is a charming and handsome British gentlemen, who, having seen Diana (Claire Foy) from afar, falls madly in love with her. The two marry and journey to Africa in pursuit of tea for Robin's exporting business. It's here that Robin is struck with polio, leaving him bedridden and with little will to live. Even the birth of their first child does not wake him from stupor.


It is Diana's persistent and unconditional love that sees Robin removed from the bounds of the hospital room to their spacious home, where he then collaborates with inventor Teddy (Hugh Bonneville) to further improve his quality of life, as the two of them come up with a hybrid breathing apparatus and wheelchair.  


Of course at the time these privileges were unique to Robin. His money, influence and networks (as well as his stoic wife)  meant that he faired much better than others with his condition, who were generally confined to hospitals for the remainder of their lives.  The film places emphasis on equality for the disabled community as well as dabbling in the notions of euthanasia to a lesser degree. 


With the casting of able-bodied actors for these style of roles, the choice of Andrew Garfield as the lead would have been controversial. But Garfield executes it perfectly, delivering authenticity to the role. His slight twang, overbite and incredibly subtle but charming performance is one that you'll remember for a long time to come. Foy is clearly well versed in playing a refined english women given her successful role in The Crown, but even her strong performance is shadowed by Garfield, who is an utter tour de force in Breathe


Although the first act felt drawn out and ridged, the following acts do a lot to remedy that. Early introductions to these characters prior to that fateful bout of polio are sparse, and you do spend a lot of time trying to work out what it actually is that drives either of these characters. Certainly, we see their utter will to not give up painted in detail over a number of years following the incident; a fire that simply refuses to go out, stoked by one or the other when one falls into despair. But where does this come from? Director Andy Serkis doesn't seem to care that much, instead rushing us through the couples meeting, marriage, trip to Africa and parentage in pretty much the first five minutes. 


A movie like this seems like the definition of Oscar bait, given it's subject matter and the lead actors pursuit of a role that requires the nuanced portrayal of the disabled. And while the cynic in you might expect that going in to the cinema (or hell, right up until the first act ends), what Breathe is actually astoundingly good at is breaking through these barriers to deliver a message and experience that feels unequivocally heartwarming and real. This may be due to the insights of Jonathan Cavendish, who is not only the son of the lead character, but is also the producer of the film. His steady hand must have been a welcome one to make sure that this portrayal, as much as it is inspiring, felt like one of a real human; a man for whom circumstance left him crippled, but his family, friends and incredible drive allowed him to live again. 


Breathe is a different beast to one of it's closest comparators, The Theory of Everything. It doesn't feel so much like a good film as it does a real film; a tribute from a loving son to an unfortunate father. It will likely have you in tears by the end, and shocked that, given it's cliched Oscar-bait beginnings, it winds up feeling the exact opposite.