11 March 2018



'Based on the true story of producer Jonathan Cavendish's own parents, BREATHE is an inspirational and highly emotional celebration of bravery and human possibility, a love story about living every breath as though it's your last.'

Robin: 'God's a joke.'
Paddy: 'No, God's a joker. Look at the pig's mickey he's made out of you and me.'

This one was a bit close to home for me, as a friend of mine was diagnosed recently with Motor Neurone Disease. Not the exact same as polio, I know, but similar in that it will cause my friend to gradually lose the use of his limbs. The last time I saw him- it will be the last time I see him- he had already started using a walker to assist him to stand unaided and his arms and shoulders were weakening also.

Now he's gone back to his own country on the other side of the world to be with his family and live out what remains of his life. I thought about him during this film. It made me sad. And I was only the one watching it. Imagine what it must have been like to live through it.

Anyway, let's get to the storyline here. Robin and Diana are only young when they meet during a cricket match on a sunny English green in the late 'Fifties. Robin is enchanted by the sight of Diana, sitting there in her flowery dress and bright red lipstick. She agrees to marry Robin, much to the surprise of their friends, amongst whom Diana was deemed a great catch.

The loved-up, plummy-voiced pair of poshos high-tail it off to Africa- Kenya, to be precise, where Robin is a broker of tea. While there, Diana tells Robin that they're to become parents. 'It's a bit of a bugger, actually,' she enunciates in clipped British tones as she breaks the news. Robin, in an equally low-key British fashion, seems jolly thrilled at the idea. But there's more than just a baby coming their way...

While in Africa, Robin starts to feel unwell and is rushed to hospital. It isn't long before a diagnosis of polio is returned. I hadn't a clue that you could contract it through droplets in the air. That was terrifying to hear. It's a horrible disease that attacks the nerves of the spinal cord and leaves the patient paralysed from the neck down.

Poor Diana! She asks the consultant in her crisp, no-nonsense tones how long they can expect Robin to be like this. Um, forever, is the answer. The words 'irreversible,' 'permanent damage' and 'months to live' get bandied round. Robin goes into a decline- hardly surprising- and decides he'd be better off dead. Diana the Warrior, however, won't hear of such defeatism.

They return to England where Robin will be under the care of the pessimistic Doctor Entwhistle. He's a firm believer in disabled people accepting their fate swiftly and living out their short, miserable lives as disabled people. In other words, they shouldn't expect that they have the right to the same quality of life as fully-abled people.

It's not that he's cruel, I believe. It's more that he doesn't think outside the box, the box in which he expects disabled people to dwell without any nonsense about getting out and about and having fun and a life like so-called 'normal' people.

Diana brings Robin home from the hospital, at his request, to live with her and their baby son Jonathan in the fabulous old country house she's bought for a cool seven grand. Robin's bed has a ventilator attached, the ventilator which will have to 'breathe' for him for the rest of his life. If it's ever unplugged, he'll die painfully within a few minutes. The scene where the dog accidentally unplugs him during a game with the baby Jonathan is a near miss...

Thanks to Diana's determination, hard work and willingness to do whatever it takes to keep Robin alive and by her side, Robin goes on living. He far exceeds Dr. Entwhistle's gloomy predictions that 'he'll be dead in two weeks' if he leaves the hospital. Not only does Robin leave the hospital, he does plenty of other worthwhile things too.

Thanks to an inventor/Oxford professor friend (of all the luck!) of theirs, Teddy Hall, Robin gets to go out and about in a custom-made wheelchair with a ventilator attached. He flies to Spain in his chair, with Diana and Jonathan in tow, for a holiday that turns into a big fiesta with all the locals on the side of a hill in the dying light of a Spanish evening. They must have had some wonderful memories of that time.

He and Diana also fly to Germany with their doctor friend Clement Aitken to speak at a conference about disability. 'Why do you keep your disabled people in prisons?' Robin asks the attendees, after seeing the way patients are treated in a hospital they visit. 

Ironically, it's run by a doctor who's famous for his work with the disabled. He's got all the mod cons, but somewhere along the way, the heart and soul dropped out of the operation.

In tandem with Doctor Aitken, Robin and Teddy go into production together, making the wheelchairs with ventilators attached that will allow people like Robin more freedom of movement. That will allow them to have a life, more importantly. They're a huge success.

Then one day, Diana finds her beloved Robin choking on his own blood. It'll happen a lot from now on, the doctor explains. It's something to do with Robin's having been on the old ventilator for such a long time. About two decades, at least.

Robin reluctantly comes to the conclusion that it might be time for him to let go of the tight hold on his life he's had for such a long time. But will Diana, the Warrior, the tenacious little fighter, agree with her beloved hubby on this one...?

I'm glad that Robin and Diana had such a long, productive and happy time together, but they had advantages that some other disabled people/couples may not have had. They had the money to buy and maintain that fabulous old country mansion, for one thing, and then to buy wheelchairs and beds with ventilators attached. Not to mention money for travel.

They also had a fantastic network of support from friends and family who all rooted for Robin and Diana to succeed. They had Diana's funny and loving older twin brothers (if they weren't gay I'll eat my hat!), Bloggs and David Blacker. 

They had Teddy the Inventor, Dr. Clement Aitken and a whole host of loving friends who came to their parties and crowded happily around Robin's wheelchair. He was the centre of all their celebrations.

The pair also had the benefit of education and intellect that enabled them to understand what they needed and to ask for it. They had easy access also to other educated, like-minded people, for example Teddy, their Oxford professor whose technological successes allowed Robin to live his life with more freedom than he would otherwise have had.

I wonder if an old man without family, living in a tenement at that time with no-one to care about him or for him, would fare so well if he were to be struck down by the dreaded polio. He'd most likely have been stuck in a state home and left there to rot.

This angle I've put forward here reminds me of something I said when I reviewed LIFE, ANIMATED last year. It's the story of a young autistic man who learned to communicate through the medium of Disney films.

His family were quite obviously wealthy and they did marvellous things for the lad, like helping him to find a lovely safe place where he could live independently but still have help and assistance nearby if he needed it.

I was the wicked witch at the party and I remarked that you can do all kinds of things for a disadvantaged family member if you have the cash. I stand by that, having an autistic son myself and no funds to do the things for him which I'd like to do.

My cynicism shouldn't stop you from enjoying BREATHE, however. It's still a story of the triumph of courage and determination over adversity, like Nando Parrado climbing out of the
Andes single-handed when his plane crashed there in the early 'Seventies. 

Or Daniel Radcliffe finding his way alone out of the Amazonian jungle in that film where Daniel Radcliffe finds his way alone out of the Amazonian jungle. I think it was called 'THE BUS THAT COULDN'T SLOW DOWN.'

I've always admired that kind of true grit and tenacity. I like to hope I'd be as strong-willed myself if the circumstances called for it but we never know what we'd do until we're in the situation ourselves. Let's hope it never arises...



Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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