“Good shot old chap”, is the type of era we find ourselves in with Breathe, a coming-of-age romance drama starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy. It could’ve been called “Keep Calm and Carry On”, mustering up the best of British fortitude against the tide of bureaucracy and prejudice. Cricket, tennis… a spot of tea and a bikkie, everything seems to be hunky-dory until the onset of unexpected illness. Spurring us to dig deep and keep our chin up… pip-pip, it underwrites much of the sentiment around being cut from the Queen’s cloth and getting on with it – something we could all learn from in an age of bad news, financial constraints and default suspicion.
This is a directorial debut for Andy Serkis, who is best known for his brilliant motion capture performances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes. Serkis has become the quintessential mo-cap actor, whose work has almost necessitated a best digital actor award. While this hasn’t come about yet, he has also racked up a reasonable filmography as a live-action actor. Having had so much experience in front of the camera, you would imagine this would give him some special insights when it comes to directing. While far from perfect, his debut demonstrates his agility when it comes to effecting the right balance in terms of comedy and tragedy, something Breathe explores through the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish.
This inspiring story follows the lives of newlyweds, whose adventurous lifestyle is subverted by devastating disease. While simply reading the plot makes you want to avoid this film, which seems like an inevitable downer, there’s much more to it than a Nicholas Sparks style tearjerker. If you had to deconstruct Breathe, you would find a film inspired by the likes of The King’s Speech, The Intouchables and The Theory of Everything. It echoes The King’s Speech in its stiff upper lip determination centring on a much-loved man’s will to succeed. While not quite as exuberant, the true story, heartwarming tone and central relational dynamic are reminiscent of The Intouchables as Garfield and Foy’s marital trials and stalwart performances reflect The Theory of Everything.
“Hold me now and forever…”
Breathe may not be in the same league as its influences, but still manages to convey entertaining and heartfelt drama all the same. Garfield does a remarkable job portraying Robin through the ages. A likeable actor, he seems to be building his career on unlikely heroes, again playing someone with the odds stacked against him. Restricted in terms of his physical performance, Garfield has the challenge of conveying his character’s disposition without the help of body language and at times words even. In a dynamic that mirrors the co-leads in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, he is paired with the stoic and graceful Foy as Diana. Through her tireless efforts and altruistic attitude, she loves her husband through the tragedy of his devastating circumstances, making the subliminal romance in this film very much about actions. Tom Hollander and Hugh Bonneville add to the comedic flair, playing a set of twins and a bubbly inventor respectively.
Witnessing some beautiful and touching moments in their difficult journey together, we get a fairly intimate overview. It’s not quite as melancholic or wistful as Away from Her, instead opting for a heartwarming tale of triumph that will inspire. While tragic at times, the film’s lively nature makes it a delight without becoming overly sentimental, thanks to Serkis’s controlled direction and a subtle screenplay. The film embodies life in all its irony, surprise, sorrow and joy making it an all-rounder. While the noises from the breathing apparatus may become a bit cloying at times (especially in a cinema without good ventilation) Breathe is life-affirming and well worth seeing.
The bottom line: Powerful