dir Andy Serkis
scr William Nicholson
prd Jonathan Cavendish
with Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Stephen Mangan, Ed Speleers, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg, Dean-Charles Chapman, Miranda Raison, Amit Shah, Emily Bevan
release US 13.Oct.17, UK 27.Oct.17
17/UK BBC 1h57
Not lying down: Garfield and Foy

bonneville hollander mangan
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Breathe For his directing debut, Andy Serkis tells the true story of Robin Cavendish, a pioneer who sought independence for the disabled, including himself. With this subject matter, the film is obviously inspirational. But it's made with splashes of colour and personality, catching the imagination to help redefine what it means to lead a fulfilling life. It's also finely shot by cinematographer Robert Richardson and beautifully acted by a sparky cast.

While living in 1958 Kenya with his pregnant wife Diana (Foy), tea broker Robin (Garfield) contracts polio and is paralysed from the neck down, requiring a ventilator to breathe. After their son's birth, they move back to England, where Robin gets increasingly frustrated with life in a hospital bed. Against advice, Diana takes Robin home to care for him there, and their inventor friend Teddy (Bonneville) creates a chair with an in-built respirator that allows them to travel. Over the coming decades, Robin becomes an advocate helping people like him have much more freedom.

The story is told through a series of lively parties that punctuate Robin's life. These are joyous occasions where characters get a chance to dress up and play, giving a joyous balance to the story's main events. It also lets the cast, including Hollander (doubled as Diana's twin brothers), Mangan (as a progressive doctor) and Speleers (as Robin's best friend), have some fun along with the more serious angles of the story.

Garfield and Foy shine as a couple made stronger by adversity, creating a wonderful life after the unexpected derailment of their plans. Garfield brings a smiling sunniness to Robin that matches the film's earlier scenes, then layers in some much darker emotions. Foy gives Diana a bright-eyed watchfulness that makes her a force to reckon with. She certainly never lets Robin get away with any self-pity. And the surrounding cast of scene-stealers add textures along the way.

It's perhaps impossible to tell a story like this without sentimentalising things to a degree, and there are a few sequences here that swell with melodramatic feeling. But even with the frightfully posh accents, there's a gritty realism that underscores each moment in the film, especially in a few properly harrowing scenes. Since Jonathan Cavendish produced this film, it seems odd that his father's final years have been so drastically altered on the screen. But the film captures the man's big spirit, someone who refused to merely survive his condition, but triumphed over it and had an extraordinary life.

cert 12 themes, grisliness 3.Oct.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall