Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Heywood, James Dreyfus
Director: Harry Macqueen
Last year, Supernova was poised for a big cinema release but was waylaid by the current pandemic. Thankfully, eighteen month later, the British drama from director Harry Macqueen (Hinterland) has finally made it to UK cinemas and it was absolutely worth the wait. And it’s all the better for being seen on a big screen.
Novellist Tusker (Tucci – The Lovely Bones, The Devil Wears Prada) and pianist Sam (Firth – The King’s Speech, A Single Man) have been together for thirty years. When Tusker is diagnosed with dementia, they realise that their lives are going to change beyond recognition. They embark on what is likely to be their final holiday together, driving the British countryside in a campervan and dropping in on Sam’s sister (Haywood) along the way. But as the trip continues, Sam realises that his husband has been keeping a momentous secret from him, which will have huge consequences for their future.
If you’re concerned that this will be another film about the deterioration of someone suffering dementia – like Still Alice or Away From Her – then you needn’t be: this is not that film. What could have been a grim story about a person losing control is instead an empowering and deeply moving film about a person rejecting this disease. Tucci gives a career-best performance as he refuses to give in, stoically presenting a brave face to the illness whose presence he will barely acknowledge. Refined, poised and charismatic, he sheds not a single tear in the face of a condition that has the power to ruin him.
Opposite, Firth is equally magnetic, quietly strong in the face of adversity, doing his best to confidently confront the challenges they are already beginning to face. In an early scene, Tusker wanders into the countryside from a petrol station in confusion and Sam has to track him down. Here we see the blind panic, barely contained in Firth’s face as he finds his husband blank-faced on the side of the road. But after, dignity is everything to the couple, who do discuss his condition, but won’t dwell on the incidents that are beginning to mount.
The dialogue is wonderfully conversational, with Tusker a charming and intelligent man whose charisma oozes from the screen. The connection between the pair is palpable and the look of love we see from Firth each time he looks at him is genuinely moving. This is a couple that were clearly meant to be together, so this final test of their love feels cruel and undeserved. Together they form a united front against it, but that is not enough and the impending dread of what they both know is around the corner drenches the entire film.
At a party with family and friends, which Tusker knows will be his final one, he watches astute but disconsolate, bidding farewell to the world and people he loves. In a heart-breaking speech that Sam gives on behalf of his lover, Firth is utterly captivating as he says aloud the words that Tusker cannot say. The tragedy of this disease is never lost sight of, from the beginning until the final painful scene.
The titular “supernova” refers to Tusker’s fascination with the stars and the pair find solace in stargazing together, aiming their telescope at the sky and discussing the make-up of the universe. Their story could seem so insignificant in comparison, but instead is a great love story played out against stunning vistas of the British wild countryside, laden with heartbreak. The narrative doesn’t do anything bold, but it confidently and self-assuredly tells this couple’s story assuming that we will fall in love with them as much as the director has. And we absolutely do.
UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by BBC Films