Posted Oct 03 2017

BFI LFF 2017 - Opening Night Gala - Breathe

Dir: Andy Serkis

Starring Andrew Garfield, Clare Foy, Tom Hollander, Diana Rigg, Hugh Bonneville, Ed Speelers

Motion performance’s greatest living exponent, Andy Serkis (give the man an Oscar this year – finally - for Apes) moves behind the camera for this true-life story of the parents of his production partner, Jonathan Cavendish. If that seems a little close to home, well, it is, but more often than not in a good way.

Right from the beginning, with its depiction of post-War English summer times of high teas and cricket on the green, to its move to the sumptuous environs of sunset heavy skies in Kenya, Serkis is determined to paint his picture as a deeply old fashioned romantic one. Something that the lush score from Nitin Sawhney is more than happy to also emphasise. Within this almost idyllic, bucolic land we find Robin Cavendish (Garfield) falling for the English rose that is Diana (Foy) and whisking her away to their perfect future. Until he is struck down with polio, unable to move, and likely to die within months.

From here on in, Serkis’ film becomes an inspiring tale of survival – equally and determinedly old fashioned, mind – as Robin struggles to find a life outside of hospitals, one that repositions him back in the world, still disabled but now offered a certain degree of mobility, and therefore freedom, by the chair he helps design, a mobile respirator that essentially “breathes” for him. It was an invention that would come to change the lives of thousands around the world – but Serkis is less concerned with those historical ramifications than he is with the love story at the core of his film. And, as played by both his young leads into full middle age, it is a strong and convincing one, buoyed by a genuine chemistry between Foy and Garfield.

Opening the LFF, it’s fair to say with its beautifully shot picture postcard view of an England that is long gone, Breathe is very much a safe choice. It is old fashioned in style and look, but that is clearly the first-time director’s intent. And whilst the master of The Imaginarium does allow for some technical trickery – Tom Hollander plays identical twin brothers to Diana (even though two Tom Hollanders still don’t seem enough here) the film is classical in its approach. You could even accuse it of playing the Downton card – after all, Hugh Bonneville does show up and Diana Rigg briefly pops in to give us her dowager.

But it’s also a very sincere film – in a good way. And one that for all its out dated mannerisms, still finds moments that are genuinely moving.

Breathe plays the LFF on October 4 & 5

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