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Breathe- A Review

October 5, 2017

Johnathan Cavendish has produced Breathe, the beautiful, true love story of a polio survivor and his wife. The couple are Cavendish’s own parents, Robin and Diana. Cavendish himself described the project as a ‘labour of love’ in his introduction to a screening in central London, as part of the London Film Festival 2017.

Robin Cavendish, (Andrew Garfield) the central character, is a strikingly normal young man who loves playing sport. During a game of cricket he spots Diana (Claire Foy.) Love at first sight leads to marriage. He takes her to live a life of luxury in Kenya, where he is a tea broker.

Romance, humour and even a pinch of feminism follow as much to the surprise of Robin’s many friends, Diana accompanies him on his trips to ‘broke’ tea and claims to want to know about his business- something women in 1950s Africa clearly didn’t do. As one wife puts it “God gave men jobs to do so women could have a little time to themselves.”

Fittingly, life changes for Cavendish while he is playing sport. He collapses soon after losing a set of tennis to a friend for the first time ever. He keeps calm, carries on and laughs it off, saying only “Now I know how it has felt to be you all these years!”

However, that night, no one is laughing when he ends up in hospital, paralysed irreversibly by polio. After the birth of their baby, Johnathan, the Cavendishes return to England, where Robin is given a tragic life expectancy of a few months and told to spend it on a hospital ward for polio patients. There he meets fellow patient and lifelong friend, Paddy.

With the support of an understanding doctor, Robin leaves the hospital and goes home to Diana and Johnathan. He spends the rest of his life on a ventilator, but with the love and support of his family and his many true friends, he lives a full life.

He helps design a wheelchair which has his ventilator attached to it, and becomes an activist for the rights of severely disabled people. To the shock of doctors, he even eventually gets Paddy and some other patients out of the hospital.

The wheelchair helps him travel the world- to Spain with his family, where the ventilator breaks down in the middle of nowhere and Robin reacts with characteristic humour, sending a friend to phone the chair’s inventor and requesting that he bring back food and wine- and to Germany, where he visits a chilling polio hospital and gives a very moving speech about why he chose to live, even when he wanted to die.

Diana’s true love for her husband is never in doubt, even when, at the end, he decides it is time for him to die. She movingly says “Never, ever, say you did it for me.” In his final moments, she movingly thanks him for choosing to live for as long as he did.

As a hopeless romantic who has been disabled by Cerebral Palsy since birth, I love movies that show their audiences that disabled people can stay in love after becoming disabled. However, my lifelong disability also means that I am personally strongly against Assisted Suicide. So, while I loved Breathe and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good love story, I would have loved it even more, and recommended it more highly, if Robin Cavendish had only chosen to live a little longer, until his life ended naturally.

Breathe releases in the UK on 27 October.

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