Review: ‘Breathe’

By Madyson McGill

Breathe is one of Heartland’s Truly Moving Pictures, and I have to admit that I had shed a few tears by the end. Before I saw it, I thought it might be a bit too mainstream for my taste, featuring stars like Andrew Garfield, Tom Hollander, and Diana Rigg, but the film is still full of solid performances from all around. They know what they are doing, which is to be expected, and so do the filmmakers, led by first-time director Andy Serkis.

The movie follows the inspiring true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, respectively, after Robin is stricken by polio in Africa and becomes a paraplegic. With a baby on the way and her husband stuck in a hospital bed with only months to live, Diana must find a way to keep her family together and breathing.

They travel back to England, where Robin is confined to a hospital with a respirator and tube from his throat to keep him alive. He isn’t able to look at his child or wife, as he falls into a deep depression and wants nothing more than to die. For Diana, however, this isn’t an option, and she does everything she can with the help of her twin brothers and friends to get Robin out of the hospital and into their new home. She calls upon friend and inventor Teddy Hall, played by Hugh Bonneville, to create a chair so Robin is able to experience his life and family instead of being confined to a bed his whole life.

The story has a slow start, dragging along until they reach their new home in the English countryside and their son starts to grow. The performances make up for it. Claire Foy plays Diana with emotion and passion. The character isn’t just a doting housewife doing her husband’s bidding; she is a woman who is willing to give up her life to be the backbone for her husband and family, and Foy portrays this perfectly. Robin gives her multiple chances to walk away and start a new life, but not once does she. She’s made the choice to stay. For me, this performance is the real stand out.

Garfield also plays Robin with ease, taking on with poise the challenge of the physically impaired character. He is serious when he needs to be, comedic when it was granted. I don’t think it is his best performance and I don’t think it is his worst.

Andy Serkis makes his directorial debut with Breathe and his effort is not disappointing. The film has direction and empathy, occasionally drags, but picks back up. It shows the hardships of such a drastic life change, the reality of polio, and the hope that kick-started a movement that inspired paraplegics to live instead of being condemned to death with the disease.  

The movie itself is beautifully shot. There are a lot of finely tuned wide and tight shots. My one complaint involves the Cavendishes’ relationship and story. The movie does a fantastic job of showcasing their love, but I felt as if the head of the strife and hardship wouldn’t have simply come to the end when Robin finally makes a particular decision at the end of the film. I also wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the relationships between each of the parents and their son. You would think that having the real Jonathan Cavendish as a producer would ensure that we would get more of his side of the story, but it is only slightly represented. I also felt like Dean-Charles Chapman’s portrayal of Jonathan is flat. It is similar to his portrayal of Tommen in Game of Thrones, only it doesn’t end with him falling out a window. I would’ve liked to see more emotion from him in his character’s most intense moments.

Overall, I feel as if the ending goodbye is similar to when you have to say goodbye to a family pet. They knew it was going to happen, much like when you have to take a pet to the vet to be put down. I don’t want to diminish it in any way. I just felt as if more emotion could’ve been granted to that moment, because saying goodbye to someone you know is going to die is never easy.

However, it did make me tear up as I mentioned, which is why I will give the movie a 3.5, or maybe even a 4 out of 5 stars. I would recommend going out to see it if you want a inspiring true story that tugs at the heartstrings.

Rating: 3.5/5