Breathe – Film Review

Breathe – Film Review by Frank L.

Director: Andy Serkis
Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay)
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh BonnevilleBreathe directed by Andy Serkis
Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) in 1958 was your classic, well-spoken young English man. He is a can-do man of action. His smile and his sporting, outdoor charm enchants a young good-looking girl, Diana (Claire Foy). They marry, go to Kenya (he as a tea broker) and she becomes pregnant. The British Empire still functions – just. All is as perfect as it possibly could be until out of the blue Robin is struck down by poliomyelitis (polio) which ultimately leaves him paralysed from the waist down. He returns to England with the aid of a respirator and is effectively incarcerated in a hospital where there are several survivors of polio being kept alive by respirators. The medical authorities cannot imagine any of their patients ever leaving the hospital because of the need for constant vigilance in relation to the maintenance of the respirator.

However Robin and Diana are made of sterling qualities and with the help of a friend, who is good at inventing, a variety of contraptions are created which allow Robin live at home. The story is a tribute to Andrew and Diana and obliquely to their son Jonathan (Deane Charles-Chapman). Jonathan in real life is the producer of this film. Their collective determination to allow Robin live as full a life as possible on a respirator is admirable.

The film depicts them knocking a great deal of fun out of life, including also the consequential disasters that inevitably happen. There seems to have been an endless round of excursions, trips and parties including even a trip to Morocco. There is an element of adolescent, high jinks about the various capers. No one appears to be involved in the mundane task of earning a living and yet money never seems to have been much of an issue. There is little representation of the everyday drudgery of being entrapped, paralysed in a bed. However the film does change in tone when after many years Robin begins to suffer complications. Polio was a very nasty disease even if you survived its initial onslaught.

One has to admire Jonathan Cavendish’s courage to produce this film about his parents and his father in particular. However it is difficult to believe that there were so many sunny days in Robin’s life as depicted. It is reminiscent of an adult who only remembers the sunshine of their childhood and forgets about the rainy days. Garfield certainly plays the part of Robin to perfection and Foy is a determined wife of the English rose genre. The supporting cast of friends all play their allotted jovial roles with aplomb while the doctors and administrators are appropriately narrow-minded in their approach to the aftermath of the disease.

The story is very much of the triumph over insuperable odds genre.  That ought to have made it a good story to savour. Somehow however the heavy emphasis on the fun side of things unsettles that premise. His illness seems to be a necessary backdrop so that everyone will be in top form as they create another party. It would have been good to have had an insight into Robin’s thoughts on the days when there were no frivolities. How did he manage the inevitable tedium? The film keeps its counsel and remains silent.



Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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