2017 in Cinema:
Directed by: Andy Serkis
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ed Speleers
A heart-warming and feel-good true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) who suffers from polio and becomes paralysed from the neck down from the age of 28. Breathe shows us Robin meeting his future wife, Diana (Claire Foy), the pregnancy of their child and then the immediacy of Robin’s suffering, which include him begging for death. After Diana persuades him to live they set about freeing him of the restraints of the hospital by setting up his respirator machine at home before a wheelchair is manufactured to enable him to be moved outside. The real Robin Cavendish managed to survive with polio for 36 years (despite only being given three months to live) and was one of the most influential people in giving independence to paralysed people.
Andrew Garfield is a fine actor and he excels in this role, and is wonderfully joined by Claire Foy who both give great performances. And considering Garfield spends most of his time either lying down or sitting, that’s impressive; his facial expressions alone are brilliant and help tell the story of how he’s feeling, even when, initially, he couldn’t speak. Another thing which is brilliant about this film is the soundtrack: the soundtrack also tells the story as it’s progressing; rising when it needs to, slowing when it needs to and stopping when we see Robin alone in his room to let the sound of the respirator linger on screen. The sound of the respirator was used brilliantly throughout and the final moments, shortly after Robin’s death (it’s a story of his life so I assume him dying isn’t too much of a major spoiler, I was expecting it), they turn it off and silence fills the room; after hearing the sound of the respirator pump going up and down for over an hour that silence told a story of its own and was brilliant.
However, while the film is lovely, and well acted and well presented, it is quite slow pacing. Robin and Diana’s relationship almost goes by without delay and they’re married and expecting within a few on-screen minutes before he’s struck down with polio, from there there’s a lot of talking and waiting around. It captures Robin’s new life brilliantly, though, as while we’re waiting for him to get his voice back and be free, he’s also waiting for his voice and to be free, which is why I’m not critiquing the pace too much, but I would have preferred maybe five-ten more minutes removed from him being paralysed and given to their relationship; I just felt it would have allowed for the closeness and her refusal to let him die shine through that much more.
I also found the make-up a bit strange at times, as Robin doesn’t appear to age at all in the first 12 years of polio (his hair remains the same, never showing signs of a beard (even when he was in the hospital for months his hair never changed)) yet we then jump seven years later and suddenly he’s an older man. They also never address his eating or his drinking, and that’s something I would have liked to see, to get a fuller understanding of the suffering (especially considering Robin’s real-life son, Jonathan, helped produce this film).
Overall, though, it is a lovely film about choosing and embracing life, regardless of what may come to you during it. Knowing it’s based on a true story means that Robin Cavendish existed and went through all of this which makes it even more impressive seeing all the suffering and pain it was causing him and those around. To not only survive that but pioneer a new age in the severely disabled patients is awe-inspiring, and is captured beautifully on the big screen.
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