Breathe (3 stars)


TIFF 2017: Andy Serkis's directorial debut is lifted by the presence of Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield

Andy Serkis wears his heart proudly on his sleeve with his directorial debut Breathe. An inspirational true story is transformed into an unashamed tearjerker that seems determined to ensure that even the stiffest upper lip will wobble. Cynics should consider themselves warned.

Breathe begins in the 1950s and gives the impression that it was also made in that decade. We are swept into a fairytale vision of England where cricket is played on the village green and a dashing young chap like Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) can set his eye on a fine young filly like Diana (Claire Foy).

A blissful marriage has them setting off for Nairobi, where Cavendish contracts polio. He is paralysed from the neck down and told he will be dependent on a respirator for his survival, which is not expected to be a lengthy one. How Cavendish defied all the odds and endured is the basis of a drama that celebrates the loving support of his family and friends. It also salutes a very English desire to keep calm and carry on regardless of the circumstances.

Breathe feels like a companion piece to The Theory of Everything, although it is a breezy, jolly lark compared to the complexity and pain of the Stephen Hawking story. Perhaps that is simply a reflection of a man who regarded his fate as a 'bit of a bugger'.

Brash and bustling, the film is undoubtedly heavy-handed but is frequently redeemed by the central performances. Foy is a sturdy, sensible presence as the determined Diana, who visibly grows in confidence as she takes charge of her husband's future. Garfield makes Robin the thoroughly decent fellow that he seems in the home movies and family photos that appear at the end of a film that was lovingly produced by the couple's son Jonathan.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 27 Oct.


  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • UK
  • 1h 57min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Andy Serkis
  • Cast: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Diana Rigg

Dashing young Robin (Garfield) marries lovely young Diana (Foy) and they set off for Nairobi, where Robin rather inconveniently contracts polio which paralyses him from the neck down and forces him to rely on a respirator. Serkis’s directorial debut is an unashamed tearjerker, undoubtedly heavy-handed but redeemed by…