BFI London Film Festival: BREATHE Film Review

Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy in BREATHE

Powerful and affecting, BREATHE is an inspiring tale of love and courage in the face of adversity

After winning over audiences with his incredible performances in LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003), KING KONG (2005) and PLANET OF THE APES (2011–2017) celebrated actor Andy Serkis takes his talent behind the camera with BREATHE, a moving new drama about courage under profound difficulties.

Based on an inspiring true story, BREATHE tells the tale of Robin (Andrew Garfield) and Diana Cavendish (Claire Foy), an adventurous young couple whose lives take an abrupt turn when Robin contracts polio and is given only weeks to live. Determined that her husband’s life should not be restricted by medical and social prejudice, Diana ignores all advice and breaks him out of hospital. With the support of her twin brothers (both played by Tom Hollander) and friend Teddy (Hugh Bonneville), an Oxford professor who invents a wheelchair with a respirator attached, Diana creates an environment in which Robin can thrive and he goes on to lead a long and full life.

Powerful, heart-warming and incredibly affecting, BREATHE is an inspiring tale of love and courage in the face of adversity. Serkis has picked a remarkable story for his directorial debut with William Nicholson’s emotional and socially resonant screenplay delivering some sharply crafted and quick witted dialogue between Diana and Robin.

Structured like a classic love story, Serkis clearly did his research before stepping behind the camera, making the film incredibly beautiful to look at, with its sweeping landscapes, warm palate of colours and rich cinematography.

It also impresses in terms of cast with Andrew Garfield delivering a solid performance as the dapper and adventurous Robin Cavendish, conveying the hope and spirit of a man who loves life and loves his family.

Hugh Bonneville as Teddy Hall and Tom Hollander as Diana’s twin brothers both deliver strong performances, bringing much needed comedic relief to help cut some of the film’s tension.

But it’s Claire Foy as the self-assured Diana who is the revelation here, embodying the stoic reserve of a woman whose love for husband swells just beneath the surface.

Yet as moving and inspiring as BREATHE is, the film lacks the edge needed to make it truly memorable. The romance and subsequent marriage of Robin and Diana is dealt with so swiftly at the beginning that the audience isn’t given enough time to fully invest in the couple before the fateful diagnosis is given.

Crucially, it also fails to truly get inside the head of Diana who must have been under a tremendous burden caring for both her bed-ridden husband and their infant son. This story is as much hers as it is his, yet the filmmakers have chosen to brush over this internal conflict which would have made the struggle far more real.

That said, there is plenty to like about BREATHE and Serkis certainly knows how to play his audience. While the film may not have the emotional impact of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, it is as equally as life-affirming and inspiring. All in all, a confident and compelling directorial debut from Andy Serkis.

3.5 out of 5 stars

BREATHE opens the BFI London Film Festival on 4 October and is released in UK cinemas on 27 October 2017.