Breathe is based on the remarkable true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, a British couple dealing with polio in the 1960s. Their love story is beautifully enacted by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy.
When Breathe begins, Robin and Diana fall in love. They marry and begin a life they expect to be full of adventure and travel. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy are electrifying as the Cavendishes – both in the beginning and later when Garfield plays a man paralyzed with polio.
The love story between the two of them is the heart of Breathe. If I reveal details about their story, I’m not telling you the important parts.
At that time in England and throughout Europe, if you contracted polio and it was serious enough to result in permanent paralysis, you were put on a breathing machine and spent the rest of your days in a hospital bed.
Robin wanted something different for himself, once he got past the urge to die. It helped improve his will to live when Diana brought in their infant son Jonathan and put him against his father’s cheek. The real Jonathan Cavendish is one of the producers of this film about his father’s remarkable life. Diana Cavendish, now in her 80s, was on the set as the film was being made.
To get Robin home, they created and invented several things. The first was a respirator that could be plugged in at home. When they were on their way, or if the electricity failed, Diana used a hand pump to breathe for Robin.
Diana’s twin brothers Bloggs and David (both played by Tom Hollander), and their mechanically inclined friend Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville) built the things Robin needed. Later, Hall made a special wheelchair with a battery powered respirator on board that Robin used to get out of his bed and wheel about. Hall called it the Cavendish chair. Robin would have an idea and the rest of them would figure out to make it happen. They found a way to get Robin in a vehicle with his chair and on a plane with his chair.
Robin and Diana had no trouble attracting friends and making a party out of the most trying circumstances.
Robin went back to the hospital where he’d been bedridden, and to other facilities for polio patients, even to medical conferences. He showed doctors and patients what was possible for the lives of the disabled.
They found investors and manufactured more and more of the Cavendish chairs for other polio sufferers to use. It’s safe to say that Robin Cavendish changed the lives of hundreds of polio sufferers and other handicapped individuals to this very day. I know the next time I see someone seated in a small scooter speeding down the sidewalk, I’ll think of Tommy Hall and the Cavendish chair.
Thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, the story behind it all is warm and wonderful and may bring a tear to your eye.
Breathe is available on Amazon Video and a couple of other places. I heartily recommend it.