London Film Festival: Breathe
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander
The London Film Festival gets off to a disappointing start with this heartfelt but numbingly middlebrow love story / triumph-against-the-odds picture from actor-turned-director Serkis, a biography of Robin Cavendish, a polio sufferer who overcame the odds to transform the lives of countless disabled people.
We first encounter the cheerful young Cavendish (Garfield) during a village green cricket match as he woos the beautiful, forthright gel Diana Blacker (Foy, from The Crown). Shortly after they are married, and the Arcadian English climes of rural Oxfordshire shift to ‘Out of Africa’-style golden-hued picturesqueness as Robin, a tea broker, relocates the family to colonial Nairobi. They have a son, but their idyllic tea-on-the veranda lifestyle is shattered when Robin collapses. Admitted to a hospital he is given two weeks to live. Ignoring the advice of the comically officious doctor, Diana removes Robin, who has been paralysed from the neck down, from hospital, and they return to England. There Cavendish, aided by family friend and Oxford professor Teddy (Bonneville in Betjeman-style funny uncle mode) fashions a wheelchair with a built-in respirator, an invention which will prove massively liberating for the disabled.
While there’s no doubting Serkis’s sincerity (Cavendish’s son Jonathan is one of the producers) and the protagonist’s resilience, the relentlessly jaunty pace and rarefied milieu, replete with jolly middle class eccentrics (Hollander as both of Diana’s bickering twin brothers is an irritant) feels cloying. There are a couple of moment of darkness – a genuinely distressing scene where a domestic accident nearly causes Robin to suffocate, and a visit to state-of-the-art German clinic where immobile patients are lined up in huge iron lung style machines – but these are mere lulls in the otherwise larky proceedings. Yet, somehow, despite their reductive characters – Cavendish all beatific can-do optimism; Diana, furrowed brows and fortitude – Garfield and Foy, manage to locate some raw emotion in the moving conclusion in which the stiff upper lipped couple express their deepest feelings. But it’s almost despite the material, rather than because of it.
Breathe is released 27th October