Movie Breathe a moving portrait of a trying marriage

Breathe takes on the story of a wife and her bedridden husband who led the fight for the rights of the severely disabled



118 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: Robin (Andrew Garfield) marries Diana (Claire Foy) and they live a fairy-tale life thereafter, travelling between England and Africa, where he conducts business as a tea broker. At age 28, Robin is diagnosed with polio, confining him to an iron lung, without which he cannot breathe. After a series of personal crises, he and Diana emerge as pioneers in the fight for the rights of the severely disabled.

At the heart of this feel-good biography of a key figure in the campaign for the rights of the disabled is the relationship between Robin Cavendish (Garfield) and his wife Diana (Foy).

The fierce, resilient love that Diana has for her bedridden husband cuts through the layers of sentimentality that coat this project.

Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield star in feel-good biography Breathe. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Actress Foy brings the same luminous intensity to her portrayal of Diana as she does Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series The Crown. Her Diana begins as a starry-eyed young lover, then is later a pillar of strength when she is a nursemaid to a quadriplegic. Foy makes the transition look natural.

On television, Foy's Elizabeth is a regent at war with herself, a woman who must tamp her feelings for the sake of duty. Here, Foy must once more play a character with no time for frailty - she grits her teeth to pull Robin through the fog of depression so he can use whatever he has left to be a husband and father.

Andy Serkis, the pre-eminent digital actor whose mime and voice work animate Caesar from the recent Planet Of The Apes films (2011-2017), makes his directing debut.

He gets strong performances from both leads as well as supporting cast members Tom Hollander, playing Diana's twin brothers, and Hugh Bonneville as Teddy Hall, the inventor whose device gives Robin mobility.

There are movies that dig into the raw, painful details of what it means to be disabled, such as Boston bombing survivor biopic Stronger (2017). In contrast, this work glosses over the medical minutiae and the emotional trauma is not dwelled upon at length. What remains is an affectionate and moving portrait of a marriage, put through the most trying of tests.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Moving portrait of a trying marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe