Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy Raise Curtain on London Film Festival

Getty Images
Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy

Andy Serkis' directorial debut, 'Breathe,' was the opening night film.

The 61st edition of BFI London Film Festival opened its doors in the British capital on Wednesday night, with Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy on hand to add star power to the European premiere of Breathe, Andy Serkis' directorial debut. 

The film, telling the story of the late disability rights activist Robin Cavendish (Garfield) and his determined wife Diane Blacker-Cavendish (Foy), first bowed in Toronto, but the full cast and crew — including Tom Hollander (The Night Manager), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Serkis and his producer partner Jonathan Cavendish, Robin Cavendish's son — helped give it a homecoming welcome in Leicester Square.

"They broke the mold — they were mavericks of their time," said Serkis of the film's subjects. Cavendish was diagnosed with polio in the 1950s at just 28 years old, but despite assurances by his doctor that he only had months left to live, he went on to help develop devices that gave disabled people independence and allowed them to live outside hospital wards, eventually passing away more than 30 years later. Added Serkis: "The risks that they took inspired millions of people."

Foy, meanwhile. said she was "really pleased" that the story had been told, adding that she had spent time with Blacker-Cavendish to understand her character. 

"It never really felt like we were making a film — it was like we were part of a magical story," she said. 

Garfield responded to a protest taking place outside the cinema by staff members of the U.K. theater chain Picturehouse (one of the main venues for the London Film Festival), who have been campaigning for higher wages for two years. 

"It's wonderful that we have a protest for the living wage," he said. "It's something I'm sure my character, Robin, would have fought for and I wish I could be with them now."

The London Film Festival runs until Oct. 15 and will include gala screenings of Battle of the Sexes, Call Me By Your Name, Downsizing, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.