Middleburg Film Review: ‘Breathe’ Packs for the Tears with Strong Work from Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy

2017 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: In classic fashion, first-time director Andy Serkis crafts an old-fashioned emotional story about inspiration and survival with “Breathe.”  Harnessing two vital performances from Academy Award nominee Andrew Garfield and Emmy nominee Claire Foy, Serkis establishes a keen eye for visual storytelling while bottling sentiment and passion at the most opportune moments.  While the film packs warmth and sadness, it’s simplicity is both its strength and its flaw, as it struggles to become something more than itself.  It adds up to an above average biopic that will likely be eaten up by older audiences.

Breathe,” tells the inspiring true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish.  When Robin is diagnosed with polio, the adventurous couple refuse to give up in the face of the devastating disease.

Two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (“Shadowlands” and “Gladiator”) seems eager to get to the “disease” of the couple’s influential tale.  Within the film’s first few moments, we have the couple meet at a party, dance, get married, and travel to Africa for holiday.  This offers the audience little to no investment in their origins or a reasoning or evidence to how much these two love each other.  While natural comparisons will come to the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything,” there’s a clear difference in taking the time with your love interests, and allow the viewer to indulge in their relationship and its endless potentials.

Star Andrew Garfield, fresh off his first Oscar nomination for Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” has emerged into himself, becoming a comforting, dependable screen presence.  His natural charisma and grace are felt in every frame, as he envelops a man with an immaculate spirit.  The story of Robin, while inspiration, is riddled with anguish and misery.  Garfield explores those feelings with nothing else but facial expressions and welled up tear ducts.  An impressive outing for the talented actor.

Claire Foy settles into her role, which lacks expedition and often comes off one note.  Thanks to her dazzling talent, Foy materializes, repeatedly stealing scenes from her co-star.  The analysis of the couple’s love will have you asking questions of your own spouse if you’re lucky enough to be married.  Is your love strong enough to withstand anything?  Foy manages to exhibit and expo of answers in just a few short words.

We’re also able to find comfort in two brief but standout supporting performances.  As the best friend Colin, Edward Campbell has an Oscar scene all his own while Tom Hollander‘s dual portrayal of twins Bloggs and David Backer is extraordinary to witness.

Serkis’ assertion behind the camera is quite surprising, as he takes cues from countless pictures from the earliest of movies to anything most recent.  He walks through cinema’s history as he allows DP Robert Richardson to confiscate the most beautiful images from mother nature herself.  This paired with the subtle yet affirming music of Nitin Sawhney, “Breathe” will not skimp on the impact of these two individual’s stories.

Breathe” has its moments of greatness, though not as frequent.  Its gorgeous production designs from James Merifield are sensational and could be one of the year’s most tender highlights.  The film very well could have you holding your love’s hands a little tighter.

“Breathe” is distributed by Bleecker Street, is screening at the Middleburg Film Festival, and is currently open in limited release.

GRADE: (★)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “BREATHE” ranks!



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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.