06 October 2017

London Film Festival 2017 Part I: Breathe

Another year, another London Film Festival — my eighth, in fact, and you can read my coverage of previous years here. I usually try to go to four or five films, including the Surprise Film, but this year I'm only going to two — unless a ticket becomes available for the screen talk with David Fincher, one of my favourite directors. The reasons for this are twofold: first, I will be out of the country for part of the festival, and second, I've been trying to save for my big out-of-the-country trip, and LFF ticket prices have become very expensive over the years.

I was really pleased to score a ticket to last night's opening night gala, Andy Serkis's directorial debut, Breathe. I missed out in the ballot, but checking back regularly on the BFI website landed me a great seat in the fourth row of the Odeon Leicester Square. It had been a while since I'd attended an opening-night gala and I'd forgotten how busy Leicester Square gets. Usually, I loiter near the red carpet until the cast or crew member I am hoping to see heads on to start giving interviews, but the queue was so big last night that I just had to go to the end and cross my fingers that the queue gods were on my side.

Happily, I managed to snap a few photos of one of the stars, Andrew Garfield. Funnily enough, it was at the LFF opening-night gala for Never Let Me Go in 2010 — also attended by Garfield, along with Kazuo Ishiguro, who just won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature — where I first developed a fondness for Mr Garfield.

The show was running late but organ music kept us entertained, and I was also excited to have a minor encounter with Jason Isaacs, who was in the audience.

After BFI Chief Executive Amanda Nevill and the ever-colourfully-attired London Film Festival Director Clare Stewart had made their introductions, director Andy Serkis and producer Jonathan Cavendish came on stage and introduced some of the cast members, including Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander and Hugh Bonneville. Jonathan Cavendish is also the son of the couple depicted in the film, and his mother Diana also joined the cast and crew.

After all of this excitement, it was time for the film to begin. Breathe tells the true story of Robin (Garfield) and Diana Cavendish, who meet and marry in the 1950s before moving to Kenya where Robin begins a tea-broking business. Disaster strikes, however, when Robin contracts polio and becomes paralysed from the neck down, his survival relying on a mechanical respirator. Given just months to live, he wants to die and begs Diana to take her freedom and start again. She refuses and what follows is powerful, warm and inspiring tale of love and of challenging expectations.

Supported by Diana, their families (including Diana's twin brothers, both played by Tom Hollander) and friends, Robin is able to 'break out' of the hospital to move home and live an increasingly full life. Eventually, he is able to travel — thanks in part to innovations, such as a wheelchair with a built-in respirator, created by his friend Teddy Hall (Bonneville) — and goes on to become a campaigner and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, defying the assumptions of the time.

If Tom Hardy's single eye stole the show in Dunkirk, Andrew Garfield's eyebrows deserve their own credit in Breathe. The actor's whole face is wonderfully expressive, though, and the convincing and tender relationship between him and Foy and their chemistry really carry the film and stop it becoming overly sentimental. Although often emotional, Breathe is also very funny at times; Garfield achieves much of this with his facial expressions and dry remarks, while Hollander's Blacker twins often act as the comic relief (one scene was perhaps a little too Chuckle Brothers). Added to a beautiful score from Nitin Sawhney and gorgeous cinematography from Robert Richardshon — showcasing England's green and pleasant lands as well as the sun-drenched Kenyan landscapes — and Serkis's film is a pleasure to watch.

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