Review: Breathe | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Breathe

Film Critic Tom Smith-Wrinch applauds the emotional honesty of Andy Serkis' directorial debut Breathe

Andy Serkis take a bow. When I heard that the great man's directorial debut would be a true story starring the likes of Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy and Hugh Bonneville I was a little apprehensive. I’m more used to seeing the now director donning the personas of Caesar, Gollum and King Kong let alone direct a fully-fledged biopic, and yet despite all of my worries it is safe to say that Serkis has delivered. His film is a personal matter, given that Serkis' producing partner is Johnathan Cavendish (son of Robin Cavendish). I mean, there is always a lot to be said for such a moving film when grown men are weeping in the cinema around me (I was not one of them of course).

The film centres around Robin Cavendish, a tea-broker who contracts Polio in the late 1950’s. The film quickly focuses on his struggle against the disease; portraying the debilitating effects of his illness Serkis attempts to touch on the more serious themes of morality and instinctively the need to survive. It is through the powerful and indeed emotional acting of both Andrew Garfield (Robin) and Claire Foy (his wife Diana) that this internal conflict is explored.

Despite all of my worries it is safe to say that Serkis has delivered
That said, there are some doubts over the quality of such direction. Serkis hasn’t really gotten to grips with the “realism” of film, although the film was replete with emotion it seems that whenever the film attempted to touch on a contentious and thought-provoking issue (i.e. racism, public opinions on disability and even Diana’s marital passivity) it simply tried to gloss over it, shying away from these conflicts. The film itself undoubtedly would have benefited from further “grittiness”, adding an element of raw realism to Cavendish’s plight. What was also slightly detrimental to the film was the picture’s time sequencing. It felt incredibly rushed; at one point in the film for example baby Jonathan suddenly evolves into a toddler in a matter of scenes without any indication of time passing whatsoever. Granted, it is a movie dedicated to the entirety of Cavendish’s life and has to condense things somewhat however it would be nice to let the audience to take a “breath”, moving at a natural pace with the characters themselves. Some of the scenes seemed somewhat out of place within the film as well, I mean how often do you break down on a Spanish layby only to have a swinging fiesta with the locals that night? Hardly a regular occurrence on the M6.

However, fundamentally the film was enjoyable. Both Garfield and Hoy indeed provide compelling performances. Besides from Garfield’s rather annoying posh accent and clichéd phrases, he ultimately captures the essence of the tragedy of Cavendish’s life. The poignancy of such matters is neatly balanced by the loving warmth of family and friends, encouraging us to see this film not so much as a bleak vision of crippling disease but rather Serkis emboldens a celebration of life, inevitably striking a similar chord with the 2014 Oscar winning “The Theory Of Everything.”

The film itself undoubtedly would have benefited from further “grittiness”
The cinematography is simply beautiful, soaring over the planes of Africa, Spain and equally the glorious British countryside Serkis again captures a certain liberation in the face of such arduous adversity. Exploring throughout, not only the physical debilitation but also the mental effects of Polio one can truly get a sense of the hardship that the Cavendish family faced; one scene focuses on a now older Jonathan (Dean Charles-Chapman) staring in horror as he helps his mum  prevent Robin from slowly choking on his own blood. And yet, several scenes later we see a cordial family event taking place. It is this juxtaposition of emotions that ultimately embodies their duality towards Robin’s situation: could they tear their fundamentally happy family apart for the sake of a man who “wants to die”? Serkis here manages to do what every good film should be doing: challenging audience expectations.

The film itself was ultimately as thought-provoking as it was heart-wrenching

The film itself was ultimately as thought-provoking as it was heart-wrenching. It is certain to leave audiences with a lump in their throat by the end, or at the very least, leave you wanting to know more about the life Robin Cavendish lead. As stated before, it is truly evident that the film deals with deeply personal matters and it does so with such eloquence and poignancy that they seem so utterly relatable to the audience themselves. Granted, the film suffers from what could be known as “frightfulness”, choosing not to explore in depth more obvious issues such as the public’s view on Cavendish’s polio or the Imperialistic racism of the time, adding greater profundity to the movie. However, this film does leave audiences thinking, either pitying Cavendish’s life or celebrating his accomplishments, which says a lot for this upcoming director. Well done Serkis.

Verdict: This film will either leave you elated, heart-broken, or more likely a bit of both. Regardless, it is clear that Serkis has succeeded in capturing the plight of Robin Cavendish, even with all the emotional complexities involved in such a deeply personal story.

Rating: 7/10



2nd November 2017 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

2nd November 2017 at 12:51 pm

Images from