Opening the 61st BFI London Film Festival was Breathe, a period-set biopic and the directorial debut of Andy Serkis. Starring Andrew Garfield, the film tells the true story of upperclass English Robin Cavendish who in 1958, at the age of 28, contracted polio and was left severely disabled. Paralysed from the neck down, confined to a hospital bed and respiratory machine to breathe for him, and given just months to live, Robin wishes to end his life. But his pregnant wife Diana (played by Claire Foy) refuses to accept his wish, and after the birth of their son, together they defy all odds to find a fulfilling life for their family.

Beautifully shot, the film, despite its subject matter, is full of wit and British stoicism, buoyed by some brilliant supporting roles from national treasures Tom Hollander (Diana’s twin brothers), Hugh Bonneville (the oddball scientist Teddy Hall who invents Robin’s, and the first-ever, respirator-installed wheelchair) and Stephen Mangan (the doctor who helps Robin bring his revelations on living with a severe disability to the wider world). While bordering on twee at moments, and skirting over some tricky subjects of class and privilege, its overarching sense of positivity in the face of adversity, the importance of quality of life (with the sterile living morgue of a German hospital put into stark contrast with the raucous parties and dry humour enjoyed in the old English Cavendish household) and of those with a disability being integrated in a healthy society, lift it into a enlightening watch.

We were there on the red carpet for the European premiere at the BFI London Film Festival opening gala in Leicester Square and had the chance to chat with some of the creative team.

Andrew Garfield spoke passionately of the importance of optimism in the film and hoped that audiences would come away with a sense of positivity. He described working with Claire Foy as an incredible experience.

In a brief moment with The Crown star Claire Foy, draped from neck to toe in a stunning flower-sequinned sheer Gucci gown, we heard of the experience of playing Diana Cavendish

Andy Serkis explained how he came to direct the film, in parallel with his other debut film The Jungle Book, and how humour and wit played a crucial role in displaying how for this man, his wife and group of friends overcame adversity.

Screenwriter William Nicholson, also behind epic cinematic success Gladiator and Les Miserables, spoke passionately of wanting to capture this story for the screen in all its humanity and humour, as told by son Jonathan.

Producer Jonathan Cavendish, son of Robin and Diana, the producer spoke of how he realised one day when searching for his next story to tell, there was this story of his parents he had been sitting on all the while and the dream of landing Garfield and Foy for the lead roles.

Miranda Raison, who plays Diana’s best friend Mary Dawnay, told us how incredible it was to be involved with the film and witness such fantastic performances from Garfield and Foy.

Composer Nitin Sawhney explained the process of developing the score for the film, ensuring it followed the narrative curve of the story and avoided being anachronistic with the period the film is set within.

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 5th October 2017.
Videos: Filippo L’Astorina

Breathe opens the BFI London Film Festival on 4th October and is released in UK cinemas on 27th October.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 4th-15th October. For further information or to buy tickets visit here.