What We Know: Breathe

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By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

From Gollum in Lord of the Rings to Caesar in Planet of the Apes, actor Andy Serkis has been synonymous with motion capture technology. Now he’s trying his hand at directing, with a biographical drama about the indomitable spirit of a man struck down by disease and the woman who loved him.

Produced by The Imaginarium Studios (run by Jonathan AKA John Cavendish and Andy Serkis), with financial backing from BBC Films, Silver Reel, the BFI, and Embankment Films, Breathe will be distributed by Bleecker Street and Participant Media. The project began when John Cavendish commissioned writer William Nicholson (Everest, Gladiator) to write a screenplay about Cavendish’s father. John wanted to produce a film that would capture and tell the story of the “swashbuckling band of eccentrics” he knew as he grew up with a physically disabled parent.

John’s father, Robin Cavendish, was described as a “handsome, adventurous, and brilliant” man. At 28 years old, the vibrant young man was struck with polio and was paralyzed from the neck down by the disease. Doctors gave Robin three months to live, which he would live out bed-ridden in a hospital. Robin chose to be more than a disabled man, working with a professor and inventor to develop a wheelchair with a respirator that would allow Robin to escape the bed. With the help of his incredible wife, Diana, Robin traveled the world and became an advocate and innovator for other disabled individuals, eventually becoming one of the longest-living polio survivors of Great Britain, passing at 64 years old in 1944.

Prepare for a sudden influx of dust in the air causing watery eyes as you watch the trailer for yourself right here!



It’s not hard to see why Bleecker Street was happy to acquire the film distribution rights for Breathe. The company’s CEO, Andrew Karpen said, “We were so moved by William’s script and the powerful and inspirational story of Robin and Diana’s lives…”

Amazing talent is bringing the real-life story of Robin Cavendish to fruition, as well. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) plays Robin Cavendish with Claire Foy (The Crown) joining him as loving wife, Diana Cavendish. Tom Hollander (The Night Manager) plays Diana’s twin brothers Bloggs and David Blacker, while Hugh Bonneville (Paddington, Downton Abbey) plays Teddy Hall – the Oxford professor and inventor who helped Robin develop the wheelchair with built-in respirator. Breathe will also feature Dean-Charles Chapman as John, Mirana Raison as Mary Dawnay, and Stephen Mangan (Rush). Behind the scenes is not only Serkis in the director’s chair, but Robert Richardson (The Aviator) as the cinematographer, and Nitin Sawhney as the music composer.

The team behind the film was lucky enough to spend time with Diana, as well as Robin’s friends and other family, which Garfield reported as helpful in giving a “glimpse [of] the man inside the respirator.” Garfield has also commented on portraying Robin’s immobility, “The amazing thing was that everyone around Robin became his body. He became the mastermind behind all this invention.”

Perhaps the real hero of the story is Robin’s wife, Diana. Claire Foy spoke about playing the wife of the charismatic Robin, saying, “The most important thing to get was their love for each other. I didn’t want to over-sentimentalize her, and she definitely doesn’t want to be seen as a saint, or an angel, or an incredible sort of nurse. It was just actually love.”

And what an incredible love story it is that Breathe has tried to capture. Producer (and son) John Cavendish reported that when diagnosed, Robin wanted to turn off the machine to allow Diana to move on with a fresh start. Diana refused. Foy stated, “She [Diana] wasn’t going anywhere. That’s the thing I found the easier to understand: she loved him! She was going through it with him. There was no cutting and running, as far as she was concerned. That wasn’t ever going to be an option.”

Breathe looks to be an incredible love story based on the amazing and determined exploits of those involved and displaying the hearts of those who have chosen to share the story with the world. Serkis told the Standard, “It’s an amazing triumph of the human spirit over diversity story, a love story, which centers around a character who pioneers living outside of the hospital system with a massive Polio disability…It’s a true story and it’s very personal to me because it’s actually based on my business partner’s parents’ story.”

Breathe is slated to be the opening film for the BFI London Film Festival this year (October 4 – 15). The film will premiere at the festival as well as a few other cinemas across the U.K. Clare Stewart, festival director has stated, “We are proud to be opening the 61st BFI London Film Festival with a film that is a beacon for remarkable British talent.”

Serkis couldn’t be more thrilled to see Breathe opening the festival, saying, “Breathe is a deeply personal story to all of us at The Imaginarium and to have the European premiere of my directorial debut in London, my hometown, is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Breathe will have a general U.K. release on October 27, 2017. In the United States, the film is set for a limited release beginning October 13, 2017, with more theaters expected to be added throughout the fall. The PG-13 film will be making its way out as Oscar film season gets into full swing. Do you think Breathe will find itself getting some nominations?


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