Andy Serkis’ directorial debut shares similarities to The Theory of Everything, taking one man’s life-altering, and physically debilitating illness, and exploring how it not only affects his life and vocation, but more importantly, how it alters and puts a strain on his relationship with his wife, and children. Also similar to the aforementioned, Oscar winning endeavour, are the staggeringly impressive lead performances by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, and that, yet again, the male lead may receive the majority of the plaudits, but it’s truly his female counterpart who shines brightest.
Garfield is playing Robin Cavendish, who falls in love with Diana (Foy) only to marry and have a child with. Though while on a work trip in Kenya, he id diagnosed with polio, only able to breathe now through a machine, which is keeping him alive. He is flown home and instantly hospitalised, and warned by doctors he may never leave the building he’s in, predicted to have a rather short lifespan. But this couple refuse to take no for answer, and ignore all the specialist’s advice, and they bring Robin – complete with his machine – back home where he belongs. This is an unchartered sense of freedom for those who suffer from this terrible illness, but Robin isn’t ready to stop there, collaborating with his friend Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) on creating a portable machine that will allow for him to reignite his passion for exploring, and let him travel the world.
Somehow, given the upsetting themes displayed, Breathe maintains a certain uplifting spirit, as an accessible film that knows who its audience is. It could be accused by the more cynical filmgoer as being somewhat mawkish in parts, and overtly cinematic – but Serkis ensures this production wears its filmic tendencies like a badge of honour, that should ensure this plays well to large proportions of the public. That said, the early sequences can be a little too cliched in parts, as the forthcoming romantic narrative is schmaltzy, but it proves to be effective, for when Robin is diagnosed, it marks a stark correlation in tone, emblematic of real life, where one minute you’re carelessly enjoying yourself, and the next, without any preparation, it’s all throw up in the air. The latter half of this film is well-judged too, and it makes for an immersive experience, for the sound of the breathing machine is overbearing and inescapable, which puts us in the shoes of the characters, and also seeks to persistently remind us of just how precarious a life the protagonist now leads, as it’s all that is keeping him alive, and if you suddenly hear it stop, it’s time to start worrying.
Robin and Diana are the real life parents of the film’s producer Jonathan Cavendish, and while initially there were apprehensions as to whether this particularly story was worthy of a cinematic retelling, for so many couples are affected by this illness – at the very core of the narrative is a story of true love, and there’s nothing quite as cinematic as that.