The Story Behind Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy Disability Drama 'Breathe'

By Salisbury, Mark | Screen International, September 10, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Story Behind Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy Disability Drama 'Breathe'


Salisbury, Mark, Screen International


Mark Salisbury visits the set of Andy Serkis’s new film.

On the set of Breathe.

Hatfield House in Hertfordshire has stood in for Wayne Manor (Batman) and Lara Croft’s ancestral pile (Tomb Raider), as well as being the childhood home of Elizabeth I.

Today, however, the grand Jacobean manor has been transformed into both a 1970s Oxford hospital car park and the interior of a German hotel for Breathe, the remarkable true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and his wife Diana (Claire Foy) who together battled Robin’s polio, raised their son Jonathan and helped bring about a pioneering change in the treatment and care of people with polio.

“It’s a love story, a story of triumph over adversity, and a story of somebody who loses control of their life and then gets it back,” says producer Jonathan Cavendish, who previously filmed part of Elizabeth: The Golden Age at Hatfield. But what makes Breathe unique is that it also happens to be the story of Cavendish’s parents, and he, himself, is a character in it, played by a variety of actors from baby to 20 year old (Dean-Charles Chapman).

Written by William Nicholson (Shadowlands) and directed by Andy Serkis, Breathe is one of two new films emerging from Serkis and Cavendish’s production company The Imaginarium, alongside horror-thriller The Ritual.

It also marks Serkis’s feature directorial debut. The actor, renowned for his motion-capture performances as Gollum, King Kong and Caesar in the Planet Of The Apes franchise, has directed several shorts and shot second unit on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films; he also directed The Imaginarium’s delayed adaptation of The Jungle Book, entitled Jungle Book, prior to Breathe but the VFX-heavy film is still in post and not scheduled for release by Warner Bros until October 2018.

Cavendish had been developing the project with Nicholson for more than a decade when he and Serkis decided in spring 2016 to make Breathe after finding that Garfield and Foy had a window of availability that coincided with their own. Just before Cannes last year, they decided to roll the dice. “We rushed off to Cannes and it was all very bracing,” recalls Cavendish. “It was a bit scary. And we’re a company with resources. It would be very difficult for a small, independent company to have done that.”

Seven weeks after the decision to move ahead, and having raised the $15m budget from BBC Films, BFI, Embankment Films and Silver Reel, they were in production. …

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