Stars: 4.0 out of five
Starring Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Ed Speleers, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg, and Dean-Charles Chapman
Written by William Nicholson
Directed by Andy Serkis
Rated: PG for profanity, portrayals of medical emergencies and procedures, and infrequent portrayals of tobacco and alcohol use in recreational and historical contexts
Runtime: 117 minutes
Breathe screens on Monday, March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Arden Theatre as part of the St. Albert Public Library’s Reel Mondays fundraiser. All proceeds go towards producing the St. Albert Readers’ Festival, also known as STARFest.
Tickets are $20 for each screening or $65 for a season ticket for all five movies. They can be purchased at the customer service desk at the library. Call 780-459-1530 or visit www.sapl.ca for more information.
Robin Cavendish is probably not a name you would recognize unless you’re a student of medical history. At the time of his passing, he was the longest surviving responaut in Britain. ‘What’s a responaut?’ you might ask. More on that later.
Andy Serkis is probably not a name that many people would recognize either but he is an incredibly talented actor of many films where his expressive face has been digitally scanned and masked to portray all manner of fantastic computer generated creatures, everything from Gollum to King Kong to Caesar, the leader of the Planet of the Apes, among others. He’s not actually in Breathe but rather he directed it with just as much professionalism as I’ve come to expect from him when he is front of the camera, not behind it.
Whereas this film might look like one of those saccharine Nicholas Sparks carbon copy romances, it plays more like a touching affirmation on how indomitable the human spirit is and the dedication that comes with strong, loving relationships. It reminded me very much of the kinds of stories that Dr. Oliver Sachs would report on with humility and admiration.
Cavendish, played here by future Oscar winner Andrew Garfield, falls in love with Diana (the personable, understated and vastly underrated Claire Foy) in the 1950s. She’s a bit out of his league perhaps but the romance blossoms regardless. Breathe doesn’t waste much time with the courtship as this is a story about how an illness can affect a life and concurrently a marriage.
At some point in their first years together, he contracts polio and is left completely paralyzed, and given only a few months to live. He recovers only enough to be able to speak softly, offer facial expressions, and even move his head gently to the side, but he is alive. He becomes a responaut, someone who is permanently dependent upon a mechanical ventilator to maintain his breathing. The movie tells the story of their marriage as it survives unhindered through his unpromising prognosis and the archaic, nigh barbaric medical system.
Breathe does suffer a bit from ‘upper class syndrome’ where the characters have nannies and estates and the like that makes them fairly unrelatabe to us plebs. Looking beyond that, however, it is a very human story about the bonds of love and holding on to the good things despite all the bad that can get thrown at you. With Diana’s unending support, Robin goes on to become a prominent advocate for the disabled and for reforms of the medical system.
The film isn’t at all dry and dreary though. The hospital breakout scene is fairly amusing and wonderful, especially as Robin confined to his bed still stands up to the hospital’s nasty chief medical officer. The plane to Spain scene is also outrageously comedic. Cavendish had a strong and loyal circle (not to mention his amazing wife Diana) who all seemed to know how to make the best of a crummy situation. It’s through that circle that he gains a mobile chair complete with battery-powered respirator. We should all be so lucky to have such compadres.
All in all, Breathe is a pretty refreshing serious romance about how deep love can not only save your life but also change it to make it better. Remarkably, Cavendish and Blacker’s real son, Jonathan, grew up to be a film producer so that he could tell more of the world the incredible story of his parents.