Breathe

**1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Breathe
"The film reeks of privilege, which should not matter, but it does"

Disability is big at the box office. Actors like it because they win awards. Audiences bring hankies and cheer (inwardly) the courage and the achievement.

Polio. A Fifties scare story. Paralysis and the lingering threat of death, or spending the rest of your days as talking veg. When the act of breathing goes off message the patient is squeezed into an iron lung that looks like a washing machine and robocoptered back to life.

Copy picture

This is Robin's story. He's well qualified in the jolly hockey stick stakes, good at games, frightfully nice and all that, a lady magnate in the sense that birds flock although he's too modest to boast. If anyone was asked they would say, "Rob? Great fun!" He doesn't rock the boat, he sails it.

Anyway, he fancies the prettiest deb of the season. She is called Diana and has a rep for being stand offish as if all she needs to do is turn up and the titled toffs trip over their vowels in admiration. Robin has charm and a playful laid-back attitude, qualities that are irresistible, added to a handsome profile. By the time it takes to shake a labradoodle at a duchess they are married.

Suddenly, after a game of tennis, he collapses. The doc cuts a hole in his neck and stuffs a pipe into it that forces oxygen down his lungs. This is serious. You can't say Pax and walk away. You are stuck in hospital until you peg out in a frothy mess.

Robin's not having any of this. He's not going to lie there like a beached whale on a Cornish beach, or die of boredom. He's going home. Of course Diana has a lot to do with it. She stops being the object of desire and becomes a fierce defender of her husband's right to life. In many ways the film is about her and how she accepts this terrible thing and manages it.

Being posh they have posh friends and live in a posh house.

"You remember those Marconi shares I bought for you? They doubled in price."

That sort of thing.

The film reeks of privilege, which should not matter, but it does. Robin takes risks which would never be allowed today (Health & Safety) because he can. A friend builds him a chair that moves with all the breathing equipment attached. He goes to Spain. Eccentric? Brave would be a better word. He is surrounded by a loyal support team and a loving wife and backed by a healthy bank balance.

This is - you've guessed it - based on a true story. Andrew Garfield does a fine job as Robin. It passes muster, if that is the right (out of date) phrase for making the best of your eyes and mouth to capture the character of a chap. Claire Foy as Diana is extraordinary. She inhabits the upper class persona perfectly without mimicry or feeling the need to exaggerate emotional restraint. It is a beautiful performance.

William Nicholson's script doesn't put a word wrong. He knows the milieu well and avoids the temptation to mock it. Andy Serkis, the actor, directs for the first time. He is clean and careful and cannot be criticised for showing off. As Robin would say, "No harm done, old boy."

Why doesn't the heart leap like a salmon at the falls? Is it because posh people are not like ordinary people?

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2017
Share this with others on...
The true story of courage under profound difficulties faced by Robin and Diana Cavendish.

Director: Andy Serkis

Writer: William Nicholson

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Diana Rigg, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Amit Shah, Mary Dawney, Camilla Rutherford, Ed Speleers

Year: 2017

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

Festivals:

London 2017

Search database: