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Breathe (Andrew Garfield/Claire Foy) - DVD Review

Breathe

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

ANDY Serkis makes his directorial debut with the life-affirming Breathe, a triumph against adversity true story that resonates by virtue of its strong performances.

Andrew Garfield stars as pioneering polio survivor Robin Cavendish, a free spirited businessman with a passion for tennis and tea, who is first observed sweeping his bride-to-be, Diana (Claire Foy) off her feet at a quintessentially English cricket match.

They whisk off to Kenya where their romance continues well into marriage, until polio strikes Robin down and leaves him paralysed from the neck down. With doctors refusing to give him more than a few months to live, things look bleak, particularly as Diana is newly pregnant.

But after being flown back to England, Diana resolves to offer Robin more of a life than the doctors insist he can have and takes the bold decision to care for him at home (once more, against medical advice). Freed from the confines of a morbid hospital, Robin rallies and – with the help of his wife and friends – defies to odd to enjoy a rich, fulfilling life in which he gets to see his son grow up and even have the odd adventure.

Given its sombre undertow, it would have been easy to turn Breathe into something worthy and dull. But while the spectre of death hangs over Robin’s precarious existence at all times, Serkis – working from a script by William Nicholson – imbues the film with a great deal of resolve and humour.

The resolve comes in steadfast form from Foy’s Diana – a fierce advocate for her husband’s right to have the fullest life possible, who remains unflinching in her desire to be the best wife possible. She is as inspiring a presence as Robin, especially when helping to free him from the depression that sometimes [understandably] overcomes him.

But Garfield is great, too, capturing the larger than life personality of the young, pre-polio Robin in just a few short scenes, before then battling through the reality of his new life and – eventually – revelling in the unexpected joys that friends and family afford him. It is a performance full of spirit, delivered via mostly facial expressions.

And while the film as a whole may garner obvious comparisons with similar triumph against the odds tales such as The Sea Inside or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Serkis gives the film its own identity – one born from a stiff upper lip British spirit and a devoutly British sense of humour.

This is never more apparent than in the way he deploys his supporting cast, who range from the ever-excellent Tom Hollander (in a two for the price of one performance as twins), Hugh Bonneville (as a resourceful inventor) and Stephen Mangan (as a sympathetic doctor).

Their combined presence helps to ensure the film is as full of gentle laughter as it is drama and sorrow.

But when the time does come for Serkis to pave the way for the more serious stuff, the film earns our tears in genuinely poignant fashion. The final moments are extremely touching, while still celebrating Robin’s achievement.

As a tribute to Robin himself, therefore, Breathe is a suitably inspiring piece of filmmaking that also stands up as a personal achievement for Serkis. It is well worth investing your time in.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 1hr 58mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: February 26, 2018