Dementia certainly isn’t the first or only debilitating, nasty sickness that has been portrayed in cinema, but it has been captured in all its awful-ness by several filmmakers. In the last year alone we’ve had Natalie Erika James’ devastating horror debut Relic as well as Florian Zeller’s Oscar-winning The Father. Now, director Harry Macqueen brings us the moving, if predictable story of Sam and Tusker, a couple who go on the road after Tusker’s illness begins to get the better of him. How do you greet someone for the last time? How do you say goodbye to the love of your life?
Sam (Colin Firth) is a talented pianist and his husband Tusker (Stanley Tucci) a writer. Tusker has slowly been losing his memory and himself, but the couple set out on a holiday across England as they visit family and friends, perhaps for the last time. Sam struggles to come to terms with a future without Tusker and Tusker worries about being a burden for Sam, who has put his career aside to help Tusker.
It goes without saying really, but the performances in Supernova are magnificent. Tucci and Firth share such palpable chemistry and their marriage feels authentic and lived-in, like one of Sam’s comfortable cable-knit jumpers. Their performances are constantly underlined with tragedy, but the seasoned actors also bring in a sense of history. They speak of past events with such confidence, detail and conviction, it’s hard to believe the pair haven’t actually lived together for the past several decades.
Macqueen’s direction is also confident, but never flashy. Supernova is at all times focused and rich in detail, but it never turns into a melodrama even if its events fit the bill of your usual heart-wrenching film about illness. Yes, Supernova is tragic and sad and you will more than likely be weeping throughout the film, but it comes from a place of genuine empathy rather than manipulative filmmaking by Macqueen.
Macqueen’s film is certainly an actor’s film and it’s all about Firth and Tucci’s performances. The film is at its very best when the camera just observes the actors and captures the looks they share, the smallest touches and the hidden devastation and fatigue both men experience. Supernova almost runs out of material; it doesn’t quite manage to fill its relatively short runtime and it doesn’t find anything particularly unique to say about the situation faced by Sam and Tusker, and millions of others.
Regardless, Supernova is a gorgeous piece of British cinema and features elegant performances from Firth and Tucci. Tucci especially walks the line between asking for our empathy and earning it very well, his performance never tipping into hysteria. Macqueen shows considerable talent and gift in terms of direction as well as writing, but is certainly helped by having such seasoned, charismatic leads to deliver his at times overly simplistic dialogue. This is a film to be watched and savoured, pondered and certainly one to remember for a long time.
Supernova is available now on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD