Cunard British Film Festival Review: Breathe (UK, 2017) is a love letter from one Cavendish to another

Breathe is a love letter from producer, Jonathan Cavendish to his inspiring parents. The film is a bio-pic that chronicles the enduring love that this couple shared for each other as well as their refusal to give up in the face of a devastating disease. This story is an important one that is a testament to the power of human strength; but there are also some moments where you feel like things are being played a little safe.

This film marks the directorial debut from actor, Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) and is written by William Nicholson. The story sees Andrew Garfield star as Robin Cavendish, an affable English chap who falls in love with the warm-hearted Diana (Claire Foy) at a cricket match. The pair soon marry and go to live in Kenya where the former becomes a tea-broker and Diana falls pregnant. The year is 1958 and things are moving along rather swimmingly.

But one fateful day Robin Cavendish contracts polio. This disease leaves him completely paralysed and requiring assistance from a respirator at all times. At this point in history, such patients were not treated very compassionately by the medical establishment. The patients were expected to be passive and remain bed-ridden in a hospital ward. The Cavendish family fought hard to change this and they did so by taking chances/calculated risks.

Diana brought her husband home and cared for him with the help of some family members and friends and he would go on to be one of the longest living responauts. One friend named Teddy Hall (the always reliable Hugh Bonneville) was integral because he invented things like the Cavendish chair for his mate. This was a wheelchair that included a portable, battery-operated respirator, which allowed the patient the chance to sit and travel and gain a greater independence.

This film is told in a series of episodes from Cavendish’s diagnosis through to watching his son Jonathan grow up and some adventures and travels in between. Garfield does an excellent job with his performance, as does the strong, Foy. There is one scene involving some severely disabled patients in Germany that is extremely disturbing. They are housed in a cross between a morgue and a prison and this is significant in showing how far things have come in the terms of patient care.

Breathe is a handsome-looking, period film with a romance at its core. It chronicles the trials and triumphs of the Cavendish family and their steadfast strength of character and sense of resilience in the face of adversity. This film is ultimately a sentimental hagiography but nonetheless, it is still one that will warm your heart’s cockles.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Breathe will be opening the Cunard British Film Festival, with screenings around Australia from later this month. Head here for more details: https://britishfilmfestival.com.au/films/breathe