Breathe is a by-the-numbers period drama which offers few surprises. Andy Serkis directs well, but the film feels rather generic.
When Robin and Diana fall in love, Diana follows him and his job to Kenya. When Robin contracts polio, he thinks his life is over. The couple and their friends must find a way forward that gives Robin a chance to live normally…
Breathe is obviously a personal film; it tells the story of the parents of Serkis’ producing partner Jonathan Cavendish. It is a story which isn’t well known, but is important in the history of accessibility for the disabled. So it certainly is a worthy story to tell. The advances made by Robin and the people who worked with him undoubtedly have helped progress options and freedom for those with severe mobility issues.
Whether this worthiness translates into a compelling film is another matter. Breathe does not stagnate at any point, the narrative progression feels steady and expected. Serkis often uses close ups to convey intimacy with the characters and between Robin and Diana particularly. The score suits the setting and style of the film. Locations are beautifully shot by Serkis and cinematographer Robert Richardson. Andrew Garfield delivers a convincing performance as Robin. He is becoming quite the reliable actor in delivering strong, believable portrayals. Claire Foy and Stephen Mangan are also good.
The biggest detraction from the film is that it follows a well-worn template. The British period biopic has been successful in recent years, with The King’s Speech and The Theory of Everything, and perhaps Breathe hopes to emulate this. The result, however, is that there is nothing in the film that isn’t predictable. The tropes of this genre are all here, including the brand of humour, the triumph in adversity narrative, and even the plummy accents.
There is a disappointment in an actor and filmmaker as inventive as Serkis delivering such a safe film for his directorial debut. Breathe itself will no doubt satisfy fans of this brand of gentle British period drama.
Breathe is opening the BFI London Film Festival on 4th October 2017.