Life And Lushness Breathed Into Grim Subject

The prospect of hunkering down to a Boxing Day flick about a polio victim might not have been the most appealing option last year. Breathe’s theatrical release suggests odd timing and might’ve soured the left-over figgy pudding. However, if you missed it (or avoided it) you’ll be pleasantly surprised that the film is, in fact, a celebration of life, despite its subject matter.  Furthermore, Breathe’s Blu-ray release does justice to the film’s surprising attention to audible and visual details.

There is a sense of the familiar with Breathe, which tells the true story of polio victim Robin Cavendish. Comparisons will be made with other films, the most obvious being Julian Schnabel’s very depressing (but utterly brilliant) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but Breathe differs from its ilk, most notably with its cheerful attitude towards life – no small feat for a film that deals in the currency of disease, paralysis and death.

Andrew Garfield plays Englishman Robin Cavendish, an amiable chap of the ‘stiff upper lip’ variety, with whom life’s promise has been cruelly snuffed out through contracting polio while working in Africa in the late fifties. Paralysed from the neck down, Robin is put on a respirator and given months to live.

But for the encouragement and support of his long-suffering wife, Diana (played by Claire Foy), and the ingenuity of his friend Teddy (Hugh Bonneville), Robin’s life would’ve come to a literal standstill. Instead, his life becomes one of reinvention and a symbol of endeavour and triumph as he historically pioneers a mobile treatment allowing paralysis patients to live their lives outside the hospital walls.

In his directorial debut, Andy Serkis has shown enough chops to suggest that he’s one to keep an eye on in the future. His attention to the film’s more technical minutia elevates it beyond a mere actorly drama. In particular, mention must be given to the Breathe’s sound team who did a wonderful, if somewhat unsettling job of giving life to Cavendish’s iron lung. Also, cinematographic maestro Robert Richardson (with a long list of superb titles to his name) presents a visual lushness to the film.

Serkis also appears to have got the most out of his quality cast, specifically Garfield who has climbed wholeheartedly into the role of Robin and delivers a convincing performance despite ostensibly only having his face to act with.

Not entirely without fault, the film’s playful moments risk being overly twee. But for those less pessimistically challenged, Breathe’s unbridled optimism and celebration of life is presented with full conviction and dares you to sit back on your comfy recliner, push play and watch this tear-jerker without a box of tissues.  Go on… I dare ya.

The Blu-ray offers little in the way of extra features. None, in fact. You get the film, which let’s face it, should be why you bought the Blu-ray in the first place. English subtitles and audio descriptions for the hearing impaired are also provided.

This Blu-ray release takes advantage of the film’s well engineered audio and picture. The sound offers DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 format which is delivered with consistent channel separation – quite important for a film such as this, where Cavendish’s seemingly omnipresent iron lung haunts most scenes. The picture is also well rendered and makes the most of Robert Richardson’s camera. I suspect Serkis might’ve pulled some strings to get things looking and sounding this good.

Breathe is released on Blu-ray on May 9 (yes, just in time for Mother’s day).

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