Supernova (2020) BFI LFF Review

Supernova (2020)
Director:
Harry MacQueen
Screenwriter: Harry MacQueen
Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci

“Being sad something is gone just means it was great whilst it was there.” 

A middle aged couple set off on a long road trip to see important places from their past, all the while learning to adapt as one of them is suffering from the ever evolving complications that come from living with dementia. Supernova highlights the importance of companionship and the power of family that is required when one is most at need. 

Two years after Tusker (Stanley Tucci – The Devil Wears Prada) is diagnosed with Early-onset Dementia, he and husband Sam (Colin Firth – The Kings Speech) set off on a road trip around the UK in an old camper van with their friendly dog in tow. Along the way they visit places they had been in the earlier days of their relationship, and reflect on the happy memories they have made. Subtle hints towards the ever-progressing illness that Tusker is suffering from are present from the start and grow to be more troublesome when they make a pit stop at Sam’s sister’s house for a few nights stay. Tusker had put together a surprise Birthday party for Sam and had intended to make a speech in which he would thank him for all he does for him, a moment that should have been romantic and emotional but turns out to be the latter for entirely the wrong reasons. Tusker stands to make the speech and, due to his illness getting the better of him, he loses his confidence and asks Sam to read it for him. Sam reads the speech out loud to all their closest friends and family in a beautifully captivating moment, Firth shining in a spine-chilling read that showcases his character’s sheer fragility. It’s a key example of Firth’s strength in a subdued but utterly captivating overall performance; one that sees the Oscar winning actor grow into a pained man, Firth exemplifying not only the hurt that Sam must be going through but the inner strength it takes to love and care for a deteriorating partner. This turning point in the story, when Tusker first admits defeat, spins the whole film on its head and truly drives home the darkness awaiting the loving couple down the road.

Supernova is broken down into three distinct acts, starting with the pure ambiguity of the situation and plot reflecting exactly how emotionally charged the film is. There is a clear unknown regarding the couple’s future, and entering the second act – when they arrive at Sam’s sister’s house – they start to understand what they’re going through and how they’re not tackling it alone. The third act leaves them both with decisions to make, simultaneously together and independently – it’s simply stunning screenwriting from Harry MacQueen, who also excels at directing an intimate screen portrait of love and loss between two middle aged people.



Set against the breathtakingly beautiful backdrop of the Lake District, Supernova shows how despite both men having successful careers – Sam a highly celebrated concert pianist and Tusker a best selling author – and a healthy lifestyle, dementia can affect anyone. Sam and Tusker had their entire future taken away from them in a way that, devastatingly, so many viewers will be able to relate to. 

There are many beautifully comedic moments from both lead performances throughout the film that reflect the personality of the two main characters; the film’s witty, charming dialogue aiding the layered performances from both Firth and Tucci who show an immense on-screen chemistry from the opening to the closing shots. Giving a career best performance, Tucci’s ability to showcase the ever growing struggle from the point of view of someone who is still in the position of knowing exactly what is happening to them is inspired; subtle yet brutally honest. 

Supernova’s long takes and autumnal colour palette make for a cosy and warming film; one that is superbly written, directed and performed, all the while reminding each of us that sometimes having a companion is the most important thing in the world. 

22/24

Charlie Gardiner
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