- 14 Nov 17
Sentimental sheen deflates power of disability activist biopic.
Andy Serkis is a genuinely groundbreaking creative force in cinema. His breathtaking motion-capture roles constantly push at the intersection between performance and technology. He's not just future-minded, he's future-embodied. "Conservative" and "traditional" are not words that should be associated with him; shockingly, though, both terms apply to his directorial debut.
Breathe is the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), a madly-in-love couple, whose picture-perfect existence is transformed when Robin is struck down with polio and paralysed from the neck down. But their determination to give Robin a fulfilling life leads to all sorts of innovation, including a wheelchair with a built-in respirator, which was a far cry from the torturous iron lungs used in the '50s.
It's a noble and inspirational story, literally glowing with goodness thanks to the cinematography's syrupy golden sheen. Robin and Diana's son, Jonathan Cavendish, is a co-producer on the film, and one can understand the desire to honour his genuinely incredible parents. But as we've just seen with It's Not Yet Dark, the documentary about Simon Fitzmaurice, honouring someone doesn't mean sanitising their life. It's Not Yet Dark powerfully explored the suffering and loss that motor neurone disease inflicted upon the Fitzmaurice family - and Simon's perseverance feels all the more impactful for it.
Breathepresents the Cavendishes as unwaveringly plucky and optimistic, eschewing raw, human moments of confusion, anger and hopelessness in favour of some can-do spirit. Foy is charming, and the range of emotion Garfield conveys with his face is remarkable, but the writing leaves both protagonists feeling slightly one-dimensional. Serkis's movie addresses important issues such as disability and euthanasia, but the sentimental storytelling detracts from its power.