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Review: Fact-based 'Breathe' is an Oscar-baiting romance

Andrew Garfield and Clair Foy in "Breathe."

BLEEKER STREET/TNS

By CALVIN WILSON | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Published: October 31, 2017

Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) is a tea broker who exudes confidence -- a quality that attracts the attention of perkily appealing socialite Diana Blacker (Claire Foy). The two look good together, and their marriage is a foregone conclusion. It's the 1950s, and the British couple seems destined for a bright, mostly untroubled future.

But their bliss is threatened when Robin contracts polio, becomes paralyzed from the neck down and is confined to a hospital bed. Dependent on a breathing machine to survive, he unselfishly beseeches Diana to pursue a life without him --  an idea that she refuses to accept. Diana insists that some solution can be found, and Robin has no choice but to do what's necessary to accede to her wishes.

The first step is leaving the hospital and its atmosphere of doom and gloom. The second is fully reintegrating Robin into society -- and that opportunity comes when, with the help of his inventor friend Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), he comes up with a wheelchair with a built-in respirator.

It's the beginning of Robin's life as a "responaut" and as an advocate for people with disabilities.

The fact-based "Breathe" is obvious Oscar bait, but its engaging story and appealing cast make that agenda easy to excuse. Working from a screenplay by William Nicholson ("Gladiator"), director Andy Serkis keeps the tear-jerking to a minimum as he focuses on the challenges that the Cavendishes faced in keeping Robin -- and their marriage -- alive. And yes, it's the same Andy Serkis who's better known as a motion-capture actor.

Garfield ("Hacksaw Ridge") brings his usual boyish charm to the proceedings while allowing for the occasional burst of precisely calculated angst. Foy (Netflix's "The Crown") arguably has the more difficult role, hinting at Diana's inner doubts while maintaining a sunshiny demeanor.

"Breathe," like the recent "Stronger," is ultimately a love story in which the barrier to happiness is indeed formidable, but not insurmountable.

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BREATHE

3 out of 4 stars

Run time 1:57

Rating PG-13 (Mature thematic material and bloody medical images)

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(c) 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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