By Adam Ray Palmer
Day one of the London Film Festival is upon us. And like LFF’60 with A Monster Calls, the festival begins with another determined opener in Andy Serkis’ Breathe.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander and Stephen Mangan; Breathe is directed by Serkis and penned by William Nicholson.
Breathe tells the momentous story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heart-warming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of British acting talent Andy Serkis.
When Robin (Andrew Garfield) is struck down by polio at the age of 28, he is confined to a hospital bed and given only a few months to live. With the help of Diana's twin brothers (Tom Hollander) and the ground-breaking ideas of inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), Robin and Diana (Claire Foy) dare to escape the hospital ward to seek out a full and passionate life together - raising their young son Jonathan (Dean-Charles Chapman), traveling and devoting their lives to helping other polio patients.
For a directorial debut, Andy Serkis doesn’t shy away. Serkis was in town to introduce his movie at the LFF which was met with a big applause as the curtains drew back. What followed was a very important film that could have been horribly misjudged. The balance needed to make sure Breathe covered the delicate territory would have thwarted an experienced ‘shot-caller’, but Serkis admirably stepped up.
Serkis seemed to have so much to work with, but what came across the screen appeared quite plain. The talent from his leads is of course apparent, but I think Andy is let down by a pedestrian screenplay. The narrative is hurried in the first 20 minutes to get to where it needs to be, but then it follows a laborious path that’s peppered with a mawkish tone. By the time the emotive climax arrives, the lengthy runtime has become to grate.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly tender scenes that test the upper lip; but it never gets to the depth of plucking on your heartstrings. The intentions of Serkis and Nicholson are noble and it poses glimmers of potential throughout, which is possibly down to the passionate producing of Jonathan Cavendish; the real-life son of Robin and Diana.
This moves nicely onto the talented duo Garfield and Foy. They both have enjoyed an impressive last two years in the industry with various projects, and it seems they have brought all their experience to Breathe. They both hold the camera so powerfully and subtlety in equal measure; it’s quite a marvel to witness. Garfield is at the top of his game and his showing here is the definition of an Oscar-baiting central performance; very reminiscent of Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking. Foy also holds her own. Claire uses her expressional face to her advantage here as she knows she can tell a story without even uttering a word. There’s a few sequences where she is in the background, gathering herself; and those moments speak ten times louder than using her voice.
For me, Breathe is a frustrating mixed bag. It’s such an ambitious film, and certainly a courageous first time effort from Serkis. The main problem here is the aloofness. Garfield and Foy do their upmost to let the audience in on their struggles, but the camera is always too distant. The script doesn’t allow too much drama for such a devastating tale as too many pleasantries seep in. In a nutshell, think The Danish Girl, but take away the intimacy. Where The Danish Girl succeeds, Breathe misses a trick.
Cineroom’s rating: 2.5 stars
Breathe is out in UK cinemas on 27th October 2017 – certificate 12A