The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis.
Andrew Garfield is at it again in another biography about a man who made a significant difference in the lives of others. He movingly plays Robin Cavendish, who is known for having been one of the longest living responauts (people who live on mechanical respirators) as a result of polio. He invented and helped develop numerous medical devices to assist the severely disabled, such as a wheelchair with a portable respirator that he himself used extensively. Cavendish made it his life’s mission to help free hospital-bound patients. However, his life, as he often states, though liberated by his inventions, is most characterized and sustained by love, particularly for and from his devoted wife Diana, played with fortitude by Claire Foy.Though his steadfast and adoring family and friends are his backbone, it is determined in the film by a priest, who addresses Robin’s condition openly, that God, who the priest says has a sense of humor, is joking with Robin; it is suggested that the appropriate response is to celebrate—and celebrate Robin does! I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that although this film tackles a grave subject by characterizing a man who lives the better part of his life as a quadriplegic, it does not carry the weight of being riddled with trauma. It is, instead, often mystical, even magical, with many visually enchanting moments that are fashioned in almost fairytale-like settings, accompanied by lilting and playful music. Likewise, more often than not, Robin and his fearless wife Diana are found gallivanting all over the world, often throwing parties in outdoor settings, boarding planes, with him in his chair, to Spain, and laughingly appreciating the fullness that the beautiful miracle of nature and life itself has to offer. This film is, first and foremost, a captivating love story that is produced by their only son, Jonathan Cavendish. As a result, Robin possesses perspective, seeing clearly that unconditional love and community have the power to heal, inspire, support, and lift one up out of one’s misery and despair. This movie chooses to focus on the hope that is a natural outcome of this phenomenon, refreshingly portraying more comical and light-hearted scenes than emotional ones. Make no mistake—the intensity, though infrequent, is gripping; at times associated with near-death accidents. Other, more simple moments, equally impassioned, sneak up on the viewer—such as where Robin and Diana share a lingering look into one another’s eyes or interact in ways that speaks volumes—moments that encapsulate their deep connection grounded in a fierce love and undying respect for one another. Both Garfield and Foy are so raw and authentic here they are capable of drawing the viewer ever-deeper into Robin’s and Diana’s experiences and resulting bond so that tears are inevitable on a couple of occasions, especially in the end. Alas, it is here that the film toys with the issue of assisted suicide as Robin increasingly suffers from the side effects of his treatment. Surprisingly, there is no hint of this subject until the final scenes of the film, where the focus remains on the portrayal of this one man’s choices about his life’s journey; he chooses to die in what he believes is a dignified and painless way. Of course this is a sensitive topic that calls for grave discernment and an unwavering faith in a sovereign God. The redeeming qualities of the film lie in a life lived to the fullest by someone who chose to rise above his circumstances and focus on serving others. With some mature content in mind, Dove is proud to award Breathe with Approval for Ages 12+.