Director: Andy Serkis
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander
Watch Breathe online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The words “based on a true story” can justifiably be treated with caution, heralding the kind of heavy-handed biopic featuring a transformative performance by an actor depicting a famous figure. What if, though, that story isn’t one you already know?
Introducing Breathe, a love story about two people who defy the odds, after Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracts polio and cannot move most of his body, leaving Diana (Claire Foy) to care for him. Going on to construct a wheelchair with breathing apparatus that allows him to live his life, they pave the way for real change in the world of medicine and disability care.
It’s worthy, important tale, and yet it’s one that won’t be familiar with – the kind of small scale against-the-odds story that would go viral on Twitter, but wouldn’t inspire many filmmakers to put it on the big screen. Why, then, did William Nicholson write the script in the first place? For the simple reason that Robin and Diana were producer Jonathan Cavendish’s parents.
It’s a connection that gives this understated drama a personal connection that shines through every pore. Garfield and Foy are excellent, one bursting with vulnerability, the other full of steely resilience, both infectiously funny and overwhelmingly positive, without ever overplaying their parts. The emotional investment, meanwhile, carries over into the direction of Andy Serkis, a friend of Jonathan’s. After a lot of second unit work on big productions, this marks his directorial debut and he’s got a natural feel that’s a perfect fit, as he treats the material with sincere respect and affection. Even the choice of subject matter for his first feature is revealing: the War of the Planet of the Apes and Lord of the Rings star opts not for grand technological feats to announce his presence behind the camera, but quietly jumps to handheld cameras when necessary, before picking out a picture-perfect sunset between the silhouette of our lead couple as they kiss in Nairobi.
The result is a low-key portrait of a defiant couple that celebrates not only the impact one person can have on a wider society but the joy that can be found in simple human devotion. Throw in Tom Hollander as identical twin brothers and Hugh Bonneville as a madcap inventor and you have a hugely winning drama that brings a true story to life with honest simplicity – a weepie that will make you cry, but never make you feel manipulated.