Hot on the heels (or rather wheelchair treads) of Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning turn in The Theory Of Everything, based upon the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking whose PhD thesis “Properties of expanding universes”, it was revealed earlier this week, was accessed more than two million times within days of it being made available to the public, comes another middle class, Middle England melodrama about a disabled man supported by his stoic wife. “I’m sure #Breathe is v good,” tweeted domestic violence adviser Catherine O’Donnell (@loislane), “but one time I’d like to see a film about a brilliant woman with a debilitating illness & her devoted husband!”
The “What follows is true” tale being that of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), a polio-stricken tea-broker given three months to live, who through the ingenuity of “a wheelchair that does his breathing for him” by inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) and the tender loving care of his wife Diana (Claire Foy) defied the odds to not just survive but “to truly live” for a further three decades before deciding to check-out on his own terms at the ripe old age of 64, making him one of the longest-surviving “responauts”. A Cameron-esque term used to describe people who are permanently dependent on a ventilator to maintain breathing.
Supporting first-time director Andy Serkis, who has since followed up with a live-action remake of The Jungle Book due to be released in October 2018, is the two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands, Gladiator); the three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson who collaborated with Quentin Tarantino on a number of projects including The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained; and composer Nitin Sawhney (Midnight’s Children) whose comedy partnership with Sanjeev Bhaskar led to the creation of Goodness Gracious Me.
And, goodness gracious me, despite a raft of Hollywood big-hitters and a central theme which no one can quibble with (“Do you see a creature who is barely alive,” Cavendish asks a gathering of glum-faced German clinicians, “or a man who escaped the confines of a hospital ward?”), Breathe almost flatlines into the land of twee. The opening scenes are clipped to the point that you never really get under the skin of the characters. The pace like the tone is samey. And despite the gravitas of Cavendish’s situation, the film lacks bite. At one point, he is asked by his inventor friend Teddy if he can feel anything. A nose is twitched, an eyebrow raised and a tongue protruded in jest. Unfortunately, apart from the closing scenes, the only thing he failed to move was me.