Director: Andy Serkis
Screenplay: William Nicholson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ed Speleers
Runtime: 117 Minutes
Robin Francis Cavendish was a British advocate for disabled people, medical aid developer, and one of the longest-lived responauts in British history. Despite being affected by polio at the age of 28 and initially given only three months to live, Cavendish, paralysed from the neck down and able to breathe only with the use of a mechanical ventilator, became a tireless advocate for disabled people, instrumental in organising the first records of the number of responauts in Britain and helping to develop numerous devices to provide independence to paralysed people.
Whatever might be said of Breathe as a dramatic adaptation, that really is something of a legacy to leave behind – but Breathe is another one of those biographical dramas that tells a remarkable story, yet isn’t a very remarkable picture on its own. Although, it'll absolutely bring general audiences of a certain demographic to their knees with tears.
The leading performances from Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish, and Claire Foy as his wife Diana Blacker, are pretty damn good all things considered. Foy is as on form as any of the stiff upper lip English matriarch roles she’s been handed recently. Garfield has been going through a recent resurgence and he manages to underplay enough with some charisma and wit without dipping into the kind of Oscar bait showy performance that might be asked of the role.
It’s a pity that the same couldn’t be said of the screenplay, which churns out scene after scene of footage perfectly attuned to the kind of inspirational trailer mashing required to sell a movie like this and little more. The core relationship is sold mainly through the leads chemistry because on paper their relationship is rushed through the opening quarter hour of this unjustly long film. The supporting performances from Hugh Bonneville, Stephen Mangan and a strange double act by Tom Hollander are good but they never feel like real characters.
What’s more underwhelming is that this comes to us as the directorial debut of the great Andy Serkis. It’s very clear that this is the movie he’s had to settle on given that his planned production of The Jungle Book has been indefinitely shelved following Disney’s adaptation last year, and he shows little breadth in vision beyond an Ultra Panavision 70 ratio to try and make the film look older and classier than it is. It’s restrained and respectful, mainly because it feels so as it was willed into existence by Robin’s son Jonathan Cavendish, who also happens to co-run The Imaginarium Studios with Serkis.
Breathe isn’t a waste of time as it genuinely is a significant story to hear, but there are few moments in it to justify the effort to bring it to screen in such a way. Garfield and Foy are allowed moments to sparkle and roar at the scenery, but dramatically speaking much of it has been seen elsewhere and done better in other biopics of a similar vein.