Last Updated on Friday, 01 December 2017 20:36
by Christine Riney
BREATHE - the film
A true story based on the inspiring couple, Robin and Diana Cavendish. They are a young couple at the beginning of their lives together when tragedy strikes. Robin, at the age of 28 and just a few months before their first child is born, becomes paralysed from the neck down by polio. A tragic event undoubtable, however this is not a story of tragedy but rather of an extraordinary couple. They took this tragedy and spent the rest of their married life working to advocate for people with disabilities. Their ability not to just overcome adversity but laugh in its face gives you a feeling that anything is possible. All you need is true love, from your partner, friends and family, and the ability to laugh, instead of cry.
Andrew Garfield (HACKSAW RIDGE / SPIDERMAN) as Robin and Claire Foy (THE CROWN) as Diana give heartfelt performances. With Tom Hollander providing us with a nuanced role, as both of Diana’s twin brothers.
This inspiring story was produced by the couple’s son, Jonathan Cavendish, who experienced firsthand the joyous, humour of their lives.
If you believe in true love, between partners, friends and family or if you want to see the existence of it – go. Perfectly showcased with the theme song ‘True Love’ by Cole Porter.
BREATHE - the press conference
The press conference with Jonathan Cavendish (Producer), Claire Foy (Diana), Andrew Garfield (Robin), Andy Serkis (Producer) and William Nicolson (Writer) provided a greater sense of the reality of the Cavendish’s and why this film was so important to all involved.
To hear Jonathan Cavendish speak of his father and mother highlighted his truly remarkable childhood. A clear view to the humour in his life was when asked if he had any regrets in relation to the film. His response, ‘when my 83-year-old mother watched the film for the first time, she was unhappy, because she would never have worn that hat’, a reference to the hat Claire Foy wore in the hospital scene.
When asked why he decided to tell his parents’ story now, he replied, ‘The more I thought about their story, the more I realised how remarkable my parents were. Theirs was a great love story which created the victory of optimism over despair. My father had lost control of his life, along with his movement and independence, but with my mother’s love and willpower, he was released from his captivity and enabled so many severely disabled people to escape in the same way. We all need films that give us hope.’
Andrew Garfield chose to take the role of Robin Cavendish because the script was so moving it left him ‘a blithering mess of a person in my own tears’. His view is that the Cavendish’s lives are a ‘template of how to live, they had a joyous, inspired, fully lived life experience and I want to live life like that.’
Andy Serkis chose an amazing story to tell in his directorial debut. His view of Robin and Diana is of a couple who were ‘mavericks, breaking the mold and shattering the idea of what it was to be disabled in that time. Together they had tenacity, great wit, an ability to move people and transform people's lives.’
When William Nicholson was writing the film, he wrote ‘a story of a marriage not a disability. Of a community effort, all were needed in this close group, it took a village to succeed.’
BREATHE - the reality
At 28, Robin Cavendish was struck down by polio in Kenya, which left him paralysed from the neck down with a heavily pregnant wife and a diagnosis of three months to live, December 1958.
After more than a year in a British hospital as a ‘responaut’, wholly reliant on a machine to breath for him, his wife and he decided it was time for him to leave. Against all advice and what seemed like insurmountable hurdles, they did leave and what was to come is a truly remarkable feat. Together they invented a new way of living.
Not willing to be confined and thought of as only a severely disabled person he chose to, with friends and family, challenge what life was for him and championed those who had a similar plight as him. Through his creativity and imagination he was able to control his own life, something that was unheard of at that time.
A short view into his remarkable life:
*In the 1960s he tracked down and listed the circumstances of all the responauts in Britain. Until then there had been no record of how many people lived confined to 'iron lungs'. They were effectively out of sight and out of mind.
*Designed, with his friend Teddy Hall, the polymathic Oxford professor, a wheelchair with a respirator built in. This meant Robin was no longer confined to bed. Determined to ensure others like him would also benefit from this ‘new’ technology he raised funds for the first dozen chairs.
*Developed, along with scientists, a device to help electronically control the immediate environment of the severely disabled. The ‘Possum’ allowed a person to just move his/her head left or right to activate the device, enabling the telephone, turning on the television or adjust the central heating. Thus, giving more people more control of their lives.
*Moved by the plight of families who could never holiday together, he developed the idea and the impetus for the building of a holiday complex with all the facilities for the care of severely disabled responauts. The Netley Waterside House, overlooking Southampton Water, was opened in 1977.
*Travelled extensively throughout the UK and Europe in his specially designed Dormobile van with a hydraulic lift that would fit his wheelchair and accommodate his and his family’s needs. The Cavendish’s first family vacation was to Spain when Jonathan was only seven years old. Things, as with many pioneers, didn’t go smoothly on this first trip abroad. After the respirator crashed, they needed to hand pump through the tracheostomy tube for 36 hours before his ever dependable friend, Teddy, could arrive with a new one.
*Upon Robin’s death at 64, he was the longest living responaut in the UK. A truly remarkable man, with truly remarkable family and friends.
In 1958 Robin Cavendish was paralysed by polio.
In the 1980s more than 350,000 children a year were paralysed by polio.
In 2002 the World Health Organisation certifies Europe as free of polio.
In 2016 only 37 cases were reported in only three countries.
So far in 2017 only 7 cases in 2 countries have been reported.
The eradication of polio is in sight, www.endpolio.org