BREATHE, a true-life biographical drama from 2017, stars Andrew Garfield, ably adding to his gallery of beleaguered hero roles. “Sad yet uplifting” sounds trite, various connotations of the theme or formula having been twerked to death arranging and describing countless stories of triumph over tragedy, but it holds true this time out, as sensitively directed by Andy Serkis, coming through with his first go in that capacity.
Newly married 28-year-old Robin Cavendish (Garfield) is paralyzed from contracting polio in Kenya in 1958. Back home in England, breathing only with aid from a respirator, crushingly depressed and given just three months to live, Cavendish rallies under the love and support of wife Diana (a sweet and winning performance from Claire Foy) and close friends like inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) and Diana’s twin brothers Bloggs and David (both superbly played by Tom Hollander). Hall constructs a mobile chair with a respirator, enabling the Cavendish clan to travel to Spain and Germany; eventually Robin, far outliving the initial projection of time left, teams up with specialists to improve the chair and extend its applicability to other immobilized sufferers, and works to lobby for more humane ways of dealing with the stricken.
A warmhearted tearjerker that earns its emotional pull from finely tectured, subdued all-round handling, anchored by the excellent acting (Garfield’s by-default stationary work requires minute command of slight facial movements, conveying most information through his eyes and constricted vocal power), a quietly witty, non-mawkish script and through steady pacing from the director. Filmed in England (in Hertfordshire) and South Africa (standing for Kenya, Spain and Germany) at a cost of $15,000,000. Box-office take was $5,026,000.
With Ed Speleers, Dean-Charles Chapman, Jonathan Hyde and a tart cameo from Diana Rigg. Screenplay by William Nicholson. Understated score by Nitin Sawhney. 117 minutes.
* Jonathan Cavendish, the son of Robin and Diana, associate and friend of Serkis, produced the film. He’s played by Dean-Charles Chapman as an adult and 5 child actors at younger ages. Garfield’s array of characters facing heavy odds includes–so far—‘Peter Parker’ dealing with the stress of his alter ego of The Amazing Spider-Man, a desperate victim of real estate scams in 99 Homes, a bound & determined 17th-century Jesuit priest in the Japan of Silence and a WW2 hero who would serve but not kill in Hacksaw Ridge.