From the depths of Mordor comes a surprising directorial debut for master character actor Andy Serkis, with a biographical drama based off the true story of Robin Cavendish, who became paralyzed from the neck down by polio at the young age of 28. Yes, it’s quite the different landscape for the director, who’s also starred as the lead Caesar in this year’s War for the Planet of the Apes, and whilst it isn’t as epic or compelling as his Gollum interpretation; Breathe is another solid addition to the feel-good movie list.
Marketed as a predominantly a love story, the film’s first half sticks to a classic tale of romance that portrays the blossoming of Robin’s relationship with his future wife and the struggles of their predicament when he becomes stricken down. Fans of traditional British country settings in the late 50’s and early 60’s will enjoy the various costume designing and scenery and Andrew Garfield’s coy accent. His American traits still stick out here and there but overall the attention to detail is indeed jolly good fun.
But what elevates the film altogether is the second half. We’ve seen such a tale of love all too many times before and the truth is told, such a traditional formula without its British glitz and glam is a conventional watch. Thankfully at the halfway point, it begins to take a turn for the best, as we watch Robin become a pioneering advocate for the disabled thanks almost entirely to his devoted wife (Claire Foy). She’s truly the one to be grateful for not only for her implications on Cavendish’s life in reality but also for the film’s impact. Both a catalyst for her husband’s recovery and for the Serkis’s directorial debut.
Following the highs of such films as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Intouchables, Breathe’s second half portraying the rise of Cavendish’s advocacy is an enjoyable and incredibly emotional affair. Indeed, this reviewer was surprised that a couple tears (yes a couple) were trying to escape out by the end, as Serkis’s efforts had quietly snuck in the middle of the night and just like his taking of the one ring, I too had been taken by the emotional heart of the story. The investment in developing and documenting Cavendish’s relationship with his family and friends had finally come up trumps and in turn, the connection to the film’s message was made.
Whilst the first half isn’t as spectacular as such said films that I’ve mentioned, which if you haven’t seen already are a must in this genre, Breathe is still a worthy story to be told. It’s the feel-good movie for this year hands down, even if it touches quite emotionally in the final act. Serkis has done a fine job at spreading the message of Cavendish’s advocacy in his directing debut, with some truly breathtaking scenery shots and attention to detail, my only hope is that he continues to grow and perhaps take on grander settings. If anyone can make an adaption of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, surely Gollum can. But perhaps that’s just the Lord of the Rings bias in me talking.