2017 – Rated PG-13
No one comes from behind and overcomes great adversity movies like the Brits. That certainly rings true with “Breathe,” the true story of Robin Cavendish, which changed the way people with debilitating illnesses live their lives.
It has been compared to other films like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “The Theory of Everything”. While that’s a fair comparison, “Breathe” oozes a deep sense of tenderness, charm, and a healthy dose of humor laced with something I found lacking in those movies.
If you’re looking for something that will lift your spirits and make you smile, this should do the trick.
Breathe is about Robin (Andrew Garfield) and Diana (Claire Foy) Cavendish. Early on, we meet them in their heady world of cricket, tennis, tea and travel. While the newlyweds are on a business trip to Kenya, Robin is struck down by poliomyelitis.
He is paralyzed from the neck down and needs to be on a ventilator to survive. They are told that he probably only has a few months left to live.
Obviously he is devastated and wants nothing to do but die. What bothers him even more is that Diana has just informed him that she is pregnant. But she’s not one to let him feel sorry for himself. She loves her husband too much to let him go.
The story is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the time, polio patients were confined to a life in a hospital, where they basically waited to die. However, when the couple return to England, their friends and family gather around them. Robin learns to speak again and it’s not long before he gets the wanderlust bug again. He’s not the type to be stuck in the hospital.
Their friend, the eccentric professor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) agrees to help them. He struggles to create a wheelchair equipped with a respirator. It’s a big step towards Robin’s independence.
This development is totally unprecedented and the head doctor is fiercely opposed to his release from the hospital. As he leaves, he yells at them that he’s giving Robin two weeks to live!
Diana manages to scrape together enough money to buy an old, dilapidated house, and the couple soon move in. It’s an exciting time for them, made even more exciting by the birth of their son Jonathan.
There is a touching scene when Diana places the newborn next to Robin’s cheek and he starts crying. You can feel the overwhelming love he has for his son. Interestingly, Jonathan was a co-producer on this amazing film.
However, the two are not done with their adventures. Robin is tired of being complacent. He ends up feeling the urge to travel, which poses even more of a challenge than driving in the countryside. Especially when he is aiming for a trip to Spain. Impossible for a paralyzed person attached to a respirator? Don’t tell that to Robin Cavendish.
After a bit of planning and innovation, they figure out a way to travel in their custom van inside the belly of a cargo plane, complete with a few more thoroughbred horses!
Their escapades in Spain are both heartbreaking and delightful and that’s probably my favorite part of the film.
One of the most shocking scenes in the film is when the couple travel to Germany for a conference on the treatment of severely disabled patients.
They visit what are considered to be the most technologically advanced facilities in the world. There they see a large, cold, sterile room with heads poking out of the walls – patients consigned to a life inside an iron lung. It reminded me of something from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” for some reason.
It was so unsettling for the Cavendishes that they quickly walked out, then spoke out against this type of treatment in front of an audience of doctors.
Throughout the film, it is clear that the couple are devoted to each other and very much in love. Both Garfield and Foy deliver absolutely mesmerizing performances, especially considering that Garfield had only his voice and facial expressions to convey all the emotions and thoughts running through his mind. Foy’s Diana is stubborn and resolute throughout.
While the couple constantly innovated for people with disabilities, they never lost the commitment to their relationship. It is truly an inspiring and heartwarming film that never stoops to the sap.
And it’s actor Andy Serkis’ first film (“Lord of the Rings”, “Planet of the Apes”). I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Note: There are several movies with the same title. Be sure to look for one that was released in 2017.
Currently streaming for free with your library card on Hoopla and Kanopy. Also on Starz and Prime Video.
About this column:
I mostly focus on movies that I think have flown under the radar and deserve more recognition.
They include both mainstream and independent movies streaming on services like Netflix,
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