Review of film 'Breathe' about service, love, disability - and courage
Scenes from the film Breathe (see link for photos) stay in the mind hours after seeing it, partly due to its truth to the tough life on which it is based. The story is basically about love, team work and hope overcoming a serious disability, for the most part.
Former Army Officer Robin Cavendish and his new wife Diana, a descendant of Sir Robert Peel founder of the police force, expect a well connected, comfortable life ahead of them, when he is struck down with paralysing polio in Kenya and left on a ventilator, wanting to die. Diana persuades him to live and then he is determined not to vegetate in a British hospital ward in the early 1960s.
With her 24/7 help, he 'escapes', lives at home in a grand if cold and crumbling former rectory in Oxfordshire, using a ventilator, for 35 years. With the help of an Oxford professor, they design a wheelchair with ventilator, to set many others free. It is the prototype of the advanced 'kit' that today integrates even the most seriously disabled and uses their gifts. Professor Stephen Hawking springs to mind.
The difference in the case of Robin and Diana Cavendish is clearly grit, a loving partnership already in place, family support and money. Their families had wealth unlike so many families stuggling with often marginalised disability: but to their credit they used their wealth to help others and their connections to bring in more money. Their legacy is a trust fund that helps seriously disabled people have real holidays: The Cavendish Spencer Trust. The lesson from Breathe is: take risks and even with a serious disability, make your dreams come true.
The film works on many layer. It is nice to look at; it is well acted by young lead actors, especially Claire Foy, as the devoted wife who can easily call forth tearful emotion. It is also a deeply searing film but one which everyone should see. One comes out of the cinema thinking: "I can breathe, walk and talk. What a gift that is!". One also has a new insight into disability and its effects.
I wanted to know more about what lies at the root of this affirmation of life (for most of the film). Was devoted Diana expressing not just her love for Robin, but a Christian faith? We know that Robin (who got the MBE as a disability campaigner and died in 1994) was an atheist, which explains the painful situation of how he decides to act on bleeding from the lungs caused on stants ventilation for 35 years. Should he have acted differently? What does telling the final part of the story do for severely disabled people today, with less support, feeling more of a burden on meagre resources? Does it weaken their position? We know that Diana was against how Robin reacted - which for me suggests her life is founded on her faith.
If Diana (who surely also deserves the MBE) is a believer, and her love and energy comes from that, surely that should have been stated? We are called to gloify God, not ourselves (not that she is doing that herself). It is her Eton-educated, producer son, Jonathan, who made the film, telling his parents' (mostly) inspiring story.