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Soundtrack review: Breathe (Nitin Sawhney – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Breathe (Nitin Sawhney – 2017)


Breathe is a 2017 biographical drama film directed by Andy Serkis, from a screenplay by William Nicholson. It stars Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander, Ed Speleers and Dean-Charles Chapman. Robin Cavendish, who after being given only three months to live after being paralysed from the neck down by polio at age 28, becomes a pioneering advocate for the disabled. He and his devoted wife, Diana, travel the world with the hopes of transforming the lives of others like him. Nitin Sawhney wrote the score.

Now I know Andy Serkis as the master genius of motion animation as he is the man behind the stunning portrayal of Cesar from the new “Planet of the apes” franchise, not to mention King Kong or Gollum of old. It was about time to see this artist get behind the camera. I am also an Andrew Garfield fan and I trust Serkis’ vision and choice of composer as I was not familiar with Nitin Sawhney so far. It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes, that is, a couple of cues, to be charmed into a fairly tale world with sweeping orchestral celebrations, cues that make me think of ballrooms and joy, gorgeously optimistic piano motifs and small violin pieces to die for. I tell you the way this score starts I am in a state of delightful shock as I feel like the kids from the old Mary Poppins movie who found themselves entering the world of a street painting on a rainy day. I never imagined such sweeping orchestral cues could also work combined with a seductive trumpet motif and I feel like dancing, dreaming, I feel happy. I also feel as if this is the part of the rollercoaster where it rides up before a shocking and scary descent as the tragedy ruins this stunningly beautiful imagine once “Getting ill” begins. And if the music was so passionate and affecting when there were happy times, imagine what this composer can do with drama.

We are out of the colourful street painting and back in the rain as the string section gets more serious, more ample and the piano sometimes gets painfully quiet. When it finally plays again, it’s in graver, more sparse tones as a cue like “Dreaming he is fine” simply breaks my heart. The tone changes again with “Buying the house” which plays hide and seek with the strings in a different kind of playfulness. This sections of the score, with “Moving the bad” and “Hospital escape” as well turns into a jazzy, big band musing that makes me think of a fantasy or dream in the movie. Nitin Sawhney does this perfectly as well as the variety of “Breathe” is charming and addictive. His music tells me that no matter how bad times get in the story the characters never give up on hope, on life, and I don’t need to see the movie to understand that. More than half of this score is playful jazz that sends me back to my favourite 60s romantic movies, that carefree charm, those moments when reality faded away in song and dance.

“Breathe” is a delightful and meaningful story about love, hope and doing good. And I am talking about the score here; Nitin Sawhney’s music left me gasping for air whether it was with amusement, delight or worry. Imagine having tears in your eyes and a smile on your face in the same time. With it’s infectious optimism, subtle drama and charming playful jazz pieces this orchestral score is without a doubt one of my favourite of 2017 and I will be keeping my ears opened for this composer. He can do dramatic music, light music and emotional music with frightening ease and I am counting the days until Andy Serkis’ “The jungle book” opens next year. Trust me, when one of the most exuberant and optimistic cues of the score is “Wheelchair parade”, you have to hear it. Do not miss this lesson, both life and musical.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 39 / 39

Album excellence: 100%

Robin’s Drive
Cricket Match
Country Drive And Ballroom
Travelling To Kenya
Getting Ill
Meeting Baby Jonathan
Doesn’t Want To See The Baby
Dreaming He Is Fine
Buying The House
Moving The Bed
Hospital Escape
Arrival Home
Connecting With Jonathan
Cleaning Ladies Outside
Garden Party
Travelling To Spain
Picnic By The Road
Funding The Chairs
Wheelchair Parade
Arriving At The German Hospital
Leaving The German Hospital
German Convention Speech
After First Bleed
My Love My Life
Telling The Doctor It’s Time
Flashback Montage

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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  1. Danny Boy 24th December 2017

    Does anyone know the name of the Spanish guitar song that was played at the celebrations in Spain after the van stopped?? 🙂


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