In this, Andy Serkis’ directorial debut, Andrew Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a man who is only given months to live after being diagnosed with polio. The film focuses on his relationship with his wife, Diana (Claire Foy) and their efforts to live a normal life.
The events take place in the late 50s, when Cavendish is diagnosed with polio, shortly after he marries Diana and they learn of the forthcoming arrival of their first child. The beginning of the film feels rushed and all a bit flimsy. It decides focus more on the relationship between Cavendish and his family post-illness rather than put in the hard work to establish their relationship as something we should care about. It’s something The Theory of Everything got right but unfortunately, Breathe doesn’t quite emotionally connect because of this.
Andrew Garfield does a decent enough job of portraying Cavendish throughout his life. He’s particularly good when he’s lost all hope and when he just wants to die. However his character, whether an intentional choice or not, is completely insufferable. He doesn’t seem to have a humble bone in his body which again, makes it difficult to emotionally connect to his character and his journey.
Claire Foy however, is excellent. She is the heartbeat of the film and she’s responsible for the entire emotional weight. The journey she goes through as she watches her husband fall ill to raising a child alone to pioneering technology for her husband is truly remarkable.
The film also does a good job of highlighting important issues in disabled peoples’ rights. There are some shocking scenes with patients locked up in iron lungs, just being kept alive for the sake of it. It also effectively addresses the attitude towards disabled people in those times when just being alive was seen as a success. Cavendish along with Diana and others were paramount in changing this ideology and their journey to creating a better world for disabled people is a heartwarming story.
Breathe is worth watching for Foy’s performance alone and it can certainly be counted as a successful venture into the director’s seat for Serkis. However, the film is let down by a meandering script and a lack of emotional weight.
Andy Serkis’ directorial debut is perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon viewing.