If you're old enough, as I am, to remember the pure fear
surrounding the outbreak of polio in the early 1950's, this movie reminds
you that in this case, the widespread panic was justified.
At the time, the insidious polio virus could strike anywhere at any
time, and completely paralyze its unlucky victims.
By the time the vaccine was developed, in 1955, it was too late for
many people, including Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield).
Robin came from an upper-crust British family, was very good at
cricket and tennis, and wanted to develop international markets for his
tea import business. He met
Diana (Claire Foy) and instantly fell in love, and not only persuaded her
to marry him, but also to accompany him to Africa, where their Kenyan
safari was the stuff of adventure fantasy.
But all his dreams came crashing down when he suddenly contracted
polio, and suffered the completely paralysis version, including the
inability to breathe on his own. He
was attached to an iron lung in a hospital bed, a tube in his throat,
unable to speak or move anything except his eyes.
When he was finally able to swallow again, and speak, the first
thing he said was he wanted to die.
But Diana was not going to let Robin give up so easily.
Especially since she was carrying his child.
She wanted him to see their baby boy grow up.
So she stuck by her invalid husband, and encouraged him, and
persevered even though he told her he didn't want her pity.
What he did want was to get out of that sanitorium, and eventually
she was able to convince the staff that she could learn to do what they
were doing, and she could maintain the breathing machine, and they would
both accept the risk. Just
being rolled outside was a euphoric moment for him.
But they didn't stop there. With
the help of an inventor friend, Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), they devised
a chair with a portable breathing apparatus attached.
This freed up Diana to roll Robin outside regularly, and to ride in
a car (modified by Mr. Hall). And
their friends and family regularly came to visit, and would roll him
outside for the lawn parties, so he didn't become socially isolated,
But what really got Robin Cavendish going was the desire to help
others like him enjoy the same precious freedoms.
He managed to raise enough money to buy similar chairs for others
on his ward at the hospital. He
spoke to a meeting of physicians specializing in care for the disabled,
emphasizing that people like him need not be imprisoned, but were capable
of living fuller lives than anyone expected.
It's an inspiring story, about two people with a lot of pluck in
the face of adversity. And so
much love for each other that they weren't about to quit.
Not until, years later, his lungs got so scarred from the constant
ventilation that the continuing bleeding was just going to get
progressively worse. And
that's when Robin Cavendish finally decided to succumb, but only after
he'd seen his baby boy grow up.
It's a heartfelt, emotional narrative, and it's true.
But its re-telling will also create some controversy.