With its tidy storytelling, immaculate costumes and overbearing score, Breathe is the sort of fussy English period drama that's easy to hate. Yet under the confident, compassionate direction of Andy Serkis, the biopic of disability rights advocate Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) blossoms into a rousing survival story.
That story begins shortly before Cavendish contracts polio in the 1950s at 28. Transformed from athletic to speechless and paralyzed, Cavendish yearns for a hasty death. Yet he ultimately regains the use of his voice and, thanks to the devotion of his indomitable wife, Diana (Claire Foy), is able to live beyond hospital walls and fight for other polio patients to be able to do the same.
A life as astounding as Cavendish's deserves a more nuanced screenplay and an actor who lacks the otherwise-excellent Garfield's self-satisfied grin. Yet thanks to wondrous moments, such as when Cavendish revels in the joy of a roadside party in Spain and when Diana says to her husband, "Thank you for choosing to live," Breathe moves, inspires and earns its tearful but transcendent conclusion.
CRITIC'S RATING: 3/4 stars.
Breathe is rated PG-13 and now playing at Bridgeport, Clackamas, City Center, Fox Tower. Buy tickets here.