Susan Granger’s review of “Breathe” (Bleecker Street/Participant Media)
There are two recent films in which British filmmakers honor their ancestors: Gurinder Chada related her family’s India legacy in “Viceroy House” and now Jonathan Cavendish chronicles his parents’ lives in “Breathe.”
In 1957, it was love-at-first-sight when charming Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) saw socialite Diana Blacker (Claire Foy). Despite her family’s misgivings, they married and took off for Kenya, where Robin worked as a tea-broker. Enjoying an idyllic life, Diana was pregnant when Robin contracted polio.
Paralyzed from the neck down with perhaps three months to live, Robin could only breathe through a ventilator. Determined to return to England, Claire relocates Robin to a polio ward, strictly supervised by Dr. Entwhistle (Jonathan Hyde).
Miserable in that sterile confinement, Robin yearns to go home but it’s not possible until Claire confers with Dr. Khan (Amit Shah), who tells her that Robin’s respirator can work anywhere but, if it stops for just two minutes, Robin will die.
Eager to improve his quality of life, devoted Claire has Robin moved to a country home she’s purchased. There, he can not only be with his wife and son but also his friends; one is Oxford don/amateur inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), who builds him a wheelchair equipped with a portable respirator.
Working with Dr. Clement Aiken (Stephen Mangan), director of the Disability Research Foundation, after soliciting a grant from Lady Neville (Diana Rigg), they work resolutely to free other polio sufferers from prison-like hospital confinement, a groundbreaking achievement.
Utilizing a glibly superficial, stiff-upper-lip script by William Nicholson (“Unbroken”), motion-capture actor Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings,” “Planet of the Apes”) makes his directorial debut, relying far too much on confusing, inconsistently paced time-frames and gauzy, manipulative sentiment.
FYI: Apparently, Serkis was drawn to the story because his sister suffers from MS. And producer Jonathan Cavendish co-founded the London-Based motion-capture studio, Imaginarium Productions, with Andy Serkis in 2011.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Breathe” is an inspirational, yet flawed 5, lacking the compelling depth of Stephen Hawkings’ saga “The Theory of Everything.”