Robin is married to Diana. The Cavendishes are English and live in Kenya. It is 1958 and his business is coffee. The couple live a good life and have made solid friendships. Then tragedy strikes and Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracts a severe, debilitating disease. He is 28. Diana (Claire Foy) is 25. He lives, but his condition is so devastating that he sinks into depression. Diana wonders how their life together is going to work, especially as she is expecting their first child.
BREATHE takes the story of a life-changing disease and documents how it affected an English family for the next three decades. In these years, the 1960s to the 1990s, the world changed greatly in its medical thinking. Robin’s initial disease left him severely physically disabled and as the movie shows, for others with his condition, this meant a life of virtual imprisonment in hospitals, hooked-up to machines. This thinking was dominant in the medical profession, led by a desire to be efficient in the treatment of these patients, however for many, like Robin, this meant an existence that was utterly devoid of the things that make life worth living.
Diana is determined to be Robin’s carer. She works hard to create the circumstances that will improve his days and they have the support of a network of friends. The challenges are daunting, but every hurdle successfully cleared means that others can benefit from the knowledge and experience the Cavendishes gain.
BREATHE is a drama and a romance. At times, it has rather chocolate-boxy visuals but the reality of a broken human body is not completely glossed over. The relationship of Diana and Robin is shown as supportive and happy in the main, but also as ordinary and chafing at other times. Once again, reality is not completely glossed over. Diana and Robin are amazing people, but in the end remain recognizable as suffering and struggling human beings.
Andy Serkis, the actor you know from his motion-captured triumphs (Caesar in the Planet of the Apesmovies and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) has done an excellent job in his directorial debut. Actors who direct almost always know how to get the best from their fellow thesps and here Garfield and Foy create an engaging and believable Robin and Diana.
Some of the timeline and actual medical history presented seems quite loose, but the inspiration is what BREATHE is built for, rather than a documentary-style tale. I didn’t necessarily accept all the events as wholly accurate, however I was entertained and ultimately moved by the portrayal of these lives.
UK | 118 minutes (4/5)