Breathe is actor Andy Serkis’s directorial debut
Breathe is actor Andy Serkis’s directorial debut

MOVIE REVIEW: Incredible couple’s story immortalised in film

A BRITISH period biopic about perseverance and overcoming impossible odds sounds kind of like awards-bait, at first.

But then you realise the producer of Breathe, Jonathan Cavendish, is the son of the incredible couple whose story is immortalised in the movie, giving it a weighty, personal connection that transcends some empty exercise in virtue.

When Diana (Claire Foy) and Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) meet at a cricket party, they're immediately drawn to each other. They fall madly in love, marry and move to Nairobi where Robin works as a tea broker.

Their romance is portrayed in the way movies do with such couples - two beautiful people against a backdrop of sweeping landscapes set to even more sweeping music. But it doesn't grate because Foy and Garfield are pretty to look at and they have decent chemistry together.

In 1958, while Diana is pregnant, Robin is struck down by polio. At only 28 years old, he is completely paralysed from the neck down and given only three months to live.

Epic sunglasses game
Epic sunglasses game

After she gives birth to their son Jonathan, Diana has him flown back to England where he's placed in a hospital ward with other polio-afflicted patients, all breathing only thanks to the mechanical wheeze of a respirator.

Robin sinks into a deep depression, refusing to even look at his infant son and pleading with Diana to start her life anew. She won't hear of it, telling him: "You're not dead and that's that."

It's exactly the kind of stoic, no-nonsense British attitude that sees her rescuing her husband from the confines of the hospital, against the doctor's orders.

In trying to improve Robin's quality of life, the Cavendishes and their friends become inventors, pioneers and advocates for people with disabilities in an era when the "humane" solution was to hide them away.

Better than Matt Preston’s cravat
Better than Matt Preston’s cravat

The film is ultimately satisfying in large part because of the performances. Foy, as she's proven in The Crown, is extraordinarily magnetic, drawing your eye every time she's on screen. She's a masterclass in restraint onto herself. She has honoured Diana Cavendish's strength, vulnerabilities and devotion to her family.

Garfield has the harder role of not being able to rely on his body, needing to convey everything with his face and he does a proper job with it. Plus, it's fun watching Spider-Man say "there's a rather jolly pub by the river".

There's a lot to like in Breathe because how can you resist a story about plucky, downtrodden lovers who are constantly told no, but only hear yes? It plays inspiring because it is inspiring.

The movie is also Andy Serkis's first directorial gig. Serkis is best known for his motion-capture performances as Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings series and as Caesar in the rebooted Planet Of The Apes series.

But he's also worked as a second unit director under Peter Jackson in all three Hobbit movies and he brings that valuable experience to Breathe, a perfectly engaging if sometimes maudlin film.

While Breathe is primarily structured around the big moments in the Cavendishes' lives, it's actually the little ones - the blueness of the sky, the joke shared with friends - that are the most tender and captivating.

Rating: 3/5

Breathe is in cinemas on Boxing Day.

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