Directed by: Harry MacQueen
Written by: Harry MacQueen
Featuring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Nina Marlin, James Dreyfus
Sam a successful pianist and Tusker a successful author have been partners for 20-years. After Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia they decide to make the most of any time they have remaining. This culminates in travelling across the Lake District in a batter old camper van visiting places they went to when they first got together and seeing old friends and relatives.
Supernova is the type of film that was made more often decades ago, not that there is not a place for it nowadays, there most definitely is, but for younger, less patient audiences, the slow burn and intense focus on a long relationship and the strains a serious illness can put on it most certainly would be divisive. Putting aside those that will hate this because ‘nothing happens’ and ‘there’s lots of talking’ and there are no exploding helicopters, Supernova is a sad and superb two-hander performed by two top actors at the top of their game.
Thankful Basil Exposition is not in this film so when we turn up in Sam and Tucker’s life, we must glean what has happened prior to events we are seeing and figure it out for ourselves. You know like thinking, intelligent adults. The story slowly unfolds as we see the two men bickering over satnavs, maps and the minutia of a life lived together over decades. It is clear they love each other but the story does not avoid the creaking of the ship of love as it sails life’s seas.
Without doubt the story is shored up and made more watchable because of Firth and Tucci, close friends for decades in real life, are quite brilliant in the role of the gay lovers. The loving gay couple portrayed proving you do not need a gay actor to play these roles, just as a gay actor can play a heterosexual. Along with the script, the little glances, subtle signals, and moments of intimacy are there to be seen and genuinely believed, you do not need a brush writ large to demonstrate these and actors at the top of their game, such as Firth and Tucci, prove this.
The speech at the dinner with friends in the last third is a masterclass in the subtle acting saying more than any waving of arms and ‘declaiming’. The small supporting cast, seen in this section of the film is believable as relatives and friends and adds to the nuance. A quick shout out to James Dreyfus, late of ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ and ‘The Thin Blue Line’ who pops up in an entirely non-comedic role, almost unrecognisable.
The story never wanders off track or outlasts its welcome and bracketed by some beautifully shot visages of the Lake District, cinematography courtesy of Dick Pope, that four seasons in one day part of the UK looks magnificent, probably better than it does it real life.
But the story is fundamentally a two-hander dialogue-driven play between two men. Both face terrible hardships that will end in a very much different way for them. We get an insight into the raw emotions that the pressure of a debilitating and ultimately terminal illness places on the individuals within a couple. This is personal to me, so I have a dog in the fight
I cannot reveal what happens to the characters but anyone familiar with dementia knows the final outcome. Supernova is subtle and holds a microscope up to a relationship ending neither person wants. That the couple are gay man is unimportant and the Tusker’s crisis and fight with dementia is not overly sentimental or played for tears, although you will probably cry.
I understand the topic may not be comfortable for everyone, it was not for me, my mother ending her days bellowing at the top of her lungs or lying half comatose repeating ‘I want to go home’ in either situation, due to her not very cinematic type of dementia. I understand that a gay couple may make less enlightened people uncomfortable, and the slow river the film is will turn others off, but truth be told more than a few of us will live this story in one form or another in our lives. Harry MacQueen and his cast bring to the screen a fresh honesty, which shows compassion and love and all the emotions in-between in an exceedingly challenging time in a couple’s life.
No doubt about it if Harry MacQueen carries on in this vein, he will produce thoughtful and interesting films in the future.