November 15, 2017 – This inspirational biographical drama about Robin Francis Cavendish (1930-1994) is a tribute not only to his spirit, but to the remarkable circle of friends and family who helped him live a long and full life, despite the fact that doctors told him he only had months to live after contracting polio in 1957.
The story begins with Robin (played by Andrew Garfield of “Hacksaw Ridge”) a former British soldier, spotting a beautiful woman, Diana Blacker (played by Claire Foy of “The Lady in the Van”) at a party. The two quickly fall in love and marry, despite the objections of Diana's brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker, both played by Tom Hollander of “About Time”) who feel that Robin is not rich enough.
Robin and Diana go to Africa, where Robin is working as a tea broker in 1957. At about the same time he learns of Diana's pregnancy, he also comes down with polio (Poliomyelitis) and is paralyzed from the neck down (this happened just two years after Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine). He needs a machine to breathe for him. Devastated, Robin wants to die, but Diana refuses to hear of it. When she finally gets Robin to tell her what he wants, he says he wants to get out of the hospital, which seems like a prison to him.
With the help of Diana and friends, as well as a sympathetic doctor at the hospital, Robin escapes. With the help of an electric respirator and Diana's constant attention, he is able to live at home, something unheard of at the time. With the help of a friend, Teddy Hall (played by Hugh Bonneville of “Paddington”) an Oxford University professor and inventor, he is able to have some mobility using a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. Later, a van, equipped to handle the special wheelchair is also developed, along with other devices, enabling Robin to travel.
One one of his trips, he spoke to a doctor's conference in Germany after touring a medical facility for the treatment of paralyzed patients. It is a horrifying scene. Patients are fitted into drawers in the walls of the spotless white, featureless room. Only the heads of the patients are showing. It is a warehouse for patients. He is quickly told to leave. The doctors don't want the patients demanding their own wheelchairs with built-in respirators.
The film is ably directed by famed motion capture actor Andy Serkis (of the recent “Planet of the Apes” movies) and is well written by William Nicholson of “Everest.” The film shows great compassion for its characters, with the exception of a few doctors who opposed Robin's ideas. The film almost totally avoids the subject of Robin's atheism. The relationship between Robin and Diana is very effectively portrayed by Garfield and Foy. This may be Garfield's best performance, despite the limitations of the role. Tom Hollander is also memorable for his portrayal of the loveable, but bungling Blacker brothers. This film rates a B.
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