In the mid 1950s, tea-merchant Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) marries the beautiful Diana Blacker (Claire Foy), and takes his new wife out to Kenya. Only a year into their marriage, with Diana heavily pregnant, Cavendish succumbs to the scourge of polio. Returned to the UK, paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a ventilator and stuck in a hospital ward, he tells Diana that he wants to die. Having just given birth to their son Jonathan, she refuses to let him. Flying in the face of medical advice, she takes him home, and proceeds to nurse him herself. Over the years they travel, advocate for polio patients, and develop mobility aids, with the help of Robin’s friend, Oxford polymath Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville). Jonathan, their son, grows up to be one of the producers of this film.
Andy Serkis‘s directorial debut is a winner, aided in no small part by William Nicholson‘s tight script and Robert Richardson‘s glorious cinematography.
Garfield and Foy are able to portray the deep love between Robin and Diana, without allowing their performances to fall into the twee. Garfield has the task of portraying a gamut of emotions, and subtle reactions, using only his face. Foy gives us a feisty Diana who was a great beauty, clearly frustrated at being thought of as just a pretty twit.
This is not just a love story, or a feel-good, inspirational movie. Make no mistake: this is confronting film-making. Polio is not pretty. The way in which patients were treated (given the best of care with the knowledge of the time) is horrifying and a timely reminder of why we are so blessed to have the vaccine.
Breathe opens on Boxing Day.
Check out the official site here.