It seems that Relic wasn’t the only film featured at the London Film Festival that explores dementia. Whilst that film used horror, Harry MacQueen’s sophomore feature Supernova sees stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a couple dealing with the increasing difficulty of the illness, and the issues raised about love and loss, in this quiet but devastating drama.
Set in the gorgeous backdrop of the Lake District, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are on a holiday: visiting old friends and places. We know very early on that Tusker has dementia but there isn’t much plot that happens until the midpoint. Until then we spend the time getting to know the couple but it is never dull. They bicker, laugh and share memories of good times together. Sam and Tusker have a rich history together and we see how much they love each other. Tusker is the more impulsive and witty of the pair whilst Sam is more straight-faced but emotional. It won’t take you long to fall in love with them- which makes their trials and tribulations later on much more painful.
There are a few, quite brief, conversations about Tusker’s current condition and vague mentions of what plans for the future are, which build up until it reaches its boiling point in the second half of the film where the couple face the reality of the inevitable path head-on. It is here where audiences will need to get the tissues out. MacQueen forces the characters, and the audience, to have brutal but honest conversations around what dementia really does to someone slowly losing themselves to it, and the sacrifices we have to make if we truly love someone.
The frankness comes from the direction and performances. Colin Firth gives a career-best performance: repressing his emotions until the sadness and fear explodes out of him. Firth doesn’t overplay the most dramatic exchanges and it makes for a heart-wrenching watch. Tucci oozes charisma as always and is brilliant as a defiant Tusker who refuses to let dementia get the best of him. MacQueen has chosen to place the characters mostly in small spaces- a cramped camper van, a hilariously small guest bed, tiny kitchen, and living spaces – forcing the couple into close, tender moments and forcing them to confront the issue at hand. Cinematographer Dick Pope doesn’t play with camera movement much but every single shot is framed beautifully, and Keaton Henson provides a melancholic and haunting score.
Supernova is both a difficult and an uplifting watch. The love the couple share is powerful- Sam will do anything to look after Tusker and Tusker will do anything to protect Sam from his illness- but no matter what they do there comes a point when at least somebody in the relationship leaves or loses themselves. Our time on this Earth is finite, and that end comes swiftly, but dementia forces the characters to confront the inevitability of loss whilst they are both conscious and together. MacQueen has crafted a film filled with love and sorrow featuring two of the finest actors working today.
Dir: Harry MacQueen
Scr: Harry MacQueen
Prd: Mary Burke, Vincent Gadelle, Eva Yates
Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, James Dreyfus
Country: United Kingdom
Runtime: 93 minutes
Supernova was screened at the London Film Festival 2020. It will release in UK cinemas on 20th November 2020.