Dir.: Andy Serkis | Cast: Andrew Garfield, Clare Foy, Hugh Boneville, Tom Hollander, Diana Riggs; UK 2017, 117′
Andy Serkis has chosen a bio-pic of polio victim and disabled campaigner Robin Cavendish for his directorial debut. Written by William Nicholson (Shadowlands) and produced by Robin’s son Jonathan Cavendish, BREATHE is laced with a heavy dose of saccharine, from which Robin and his wife Diana emerge in a saintly glow.
After finishing his army career as a captain, Robin Cavendish (Garfield) goes to work in the tea-broking business in Africa. During a cricket match back in England, he meets his future wife Diana (Foy) and they return to Kenya, where in 1958, Robin suffers a polio attack leaving him paralysed from the neck down, unable to breathe or speak.
Against medical advice, Diana has her husband flown back to the UK, where he is put on respirator. Suicidal, not wanting to look at his newborn son, Robin wants his wife to end his life, but she is stubborn. Again defying doctors’ advice, she has Robin moved out of the hospital into the new family home in the country. Later, Oxford Don and inventor Teddy Hall (Bonneville) creates a special wheelchair for Robin. The couple visit Spain and France, and have countless parties at home, enlightened by Tom Hollander, who plays both of his Diana’s twin brothers. The couple also helps other patients, who are bedbound, founding charities with polio specialist Dr. G.T. Spencer and their own Refresh project, which allows patients and their families to have holidays. Robin Cavendish, who was given three month to live, died aged 64, a record for a polio victim.
This is a rousing film especially for those inflicted with the debilitating disease, but Jonathan Cavendish’s treatment lacks the objectivity really needed to do his parents justice in examining the wider issues involved. Nicholson’s script is a mixture of English stiff-upper-lip and ‘stay chipper whatever the circumstances’, skirting over the obvious difficulties the couple must have faced, for example, with sex. DoP Richard Richardson keeps the mood jolly with pastel colours and redundant panorama shots; whilst Nitin Sawhney’s score is of near-religious intensity. Garfield and Foy do their utmost but a less hagiographic approach would have certainly rendered a less cloying, more meaningful and realistic result. AS
BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL OPENS ON 4TH OCTOBER 2017 – 15 OCTOBER 2017