A longtime friend and collaborator of the debut director, Cavendish also worked as a producer on this project. While his involvement was likely an asset to the actors, his lack of critical distance from the narrative might well be a reason as to why the film largely feels like a sanitised, idealised version of reality.
From there we rapidly skip past all the courting and move to Kenya where Robin works as a tea broker before he succumbs to polio. It’s an absolutely terrifying condition which causes almost total paralysis, but any palpable sense of agony or panic is strangely muted; all we get are a few glimpses of Robin stumbling and struggling to breathe for a bit before we’re told he’ll be lucky to live a few months (of course, we know he’ll go on to live for several years).
The softening of Robin’s anguish happens again later when, now being cared for at home, his respirator is unplugged by the pet dog. When he’s finally rescued after seconds of excruciating suffocation, he cheerily quips to his wife ‘well that was interesting’. Films about serious illness always run of the risk of being too maudlin, but Breathe goes too far the other way towards an almost fantasy level of positivity which distances us from the severity of the suffering.
The true story of Robin Cavendish’s remarkable will to survive and desire to help others like him is undoubtedly a rousing one. But are we really to believe that his depression lasted for only the first few months of his two decades of disability? Was his marriage, or his relationship with his son, never truly strained by the trying circumstances? Frustratingly, the film doesn’t seem interested in giving us any insight much beyond the logistical difficulties caused by Robin’s condition, and as a result the characters never seem more than one-dimensional.
Still, this a very watchable ‘real-life fairytale' filled with touching, if not particularly challenging performances. Garfield can do little more than smile, gurn and put on a brave face for the majority of his screen time, but he imbues Robin with warmth and dignity. As the other lead, Foy is well cast as the superhumanly benevolent wife, nurse and mother who devotes almost her entire life to facilitating the life of the man she loves.
Elsewhere it’s a who’s who of British cameo stalwarts in supporting roles including Hugh Bonneville as the eccentric Teddy Hall – an inventor who builds a wheelchair which massively improves Robin’s quality of life – Stephen Mangan, and the always-excellent Tom Hollander, who plays both of Diane’s twin brothers. Between them they may provide too much light relief, but there are a number of times throughout the film where you won’t be able to stop yourself from matching Garfield’s big goofy grin.
|What||Breathe film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
27 Oct 17 – 27 Jan 18, TIMES MAY VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|