THE REEL: 'Breathe' is a wonderful story about resilience

Wednesday March 18 2020

Breathe is a 2017 biographical drama film that was a directorial debut by Andy Serkis (you may remember him as Ulysses Klaue in Black Panther and Avengers Age of Ultron). PHOTO| COURTESY

Breathe is a 2017 biographical drama film that was a directorial debut by Andy Serkis (you may remember him as Ulysses Klaue in Black Panther and Avengers Age of Ultron).

Serkis couldn’t have picked a better movie to introduce his directing pedigree.

This powerfully emotive film portrays the story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), who meets, falls in love with, and marries Diana (Claire Foy). At this time he has quit the army and is in the tea-broking business in Africa. A short time after his wedding, in 1957, he gets posted to Kenya. In 1958, he gets struck down by polio and it paralyses him from the neck downwards.

He can’t breathe without the use of a mechanical ventilator and is flown back to England where the doctors give him only a month to live.


Even though the couple have a child together, Diana starts getting advice from many of her family and friends about focusing on a future where Robin is not alive.

She is not only stressed by having to see the man she loved die slowly every day, she is constantly bombarded with people asking her to put herself back in the market even before his last breath has been taken.

The movie is mostly about Diana’s resolve not to give in to the modern-day thought process that there’s a limit to the phrase “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse” in marriage vows. She works tirelessly to try and find a cure for her husband’s ailment, or at the very least ensure he’s comfortable.

She researches on technological as well as medicinal possibilities that could give her husband some sense of a ‘normal’ life, for whatever time he could have left.

Andrew Garfield’s performance was just wonderful. As an able-bodied young man, you could see his character Robin had the zeal for life and lived it with an enjoyment and a drive to be great company to those around him. And even as an invalid, you could still see the humour and fun he still held in him.

Maybe that credit should also go to the screenplay’s writer William Nicholson, but his execution of it was really good. You feel crushed thinking that somebody actually went through this experience.

Claire Foy’s performance is also at an exceptional level. Seeing how Claire might have battled with the pressures that came with her husband’s illness was well executed; from friends and family who had laughed and seemed like they loved her husband a few months now telling her to just let everything go, like the switch of a button.

English actor and (now) director, Andy Serkis is critically acclaimed for his performance capture roles comprising motion capture acting, animation and voice work for computer-generated characters like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, King Kong in the eponymous 2005 film, Caesar in the latest Planet of the Apes franchise, Captain Haddock in Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, and Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, while he is set for another performance capture role as Baloo in his self-directed film, Mowgli (2018). I don’t know if he would have gotten or even wished for a better movie to make his entrance as a director. This movie is an all-time let-the-tears-out-more-furious-than-Masinga-Dam, but past that it is a wonderful story about love, resilience, ingenuity and belief in the human fighting spirit against all odds.