Writer-director Harry Macqueen's road trip drama follows a
middle-aged gay couple, played by the endlessly absorbing Colin Firth and Stanley
Tucci. Sam (Firth) is a musician and Tusker (Tucci) is a writer with early on-set
dementia, embarking on a campervan journey through the Lake District – revisiting
memories old and fond.
illness isn’t clear at first. If you didn’t know anything about the
film beforehand, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that dementia drives the story. Both
of them sit in the front seats of the campervan: talking, moaning, quibbling as
couples do. It’s only when eating in the café afterwards that Tusker has to
politely reassure his husband, ‘Sam. I’m fine,’ that you know something’s up.
The subtlety of Macqueen’s writing – the small hints and significant details –
softly feels itself through the pain, which has to be bandaged with Tusker’s
silly but excellent humour. During one moment, where Sam encourages Tusker to
keep audio diaries to track the illness, Tusker announces ‘Welcome to the Dementia
Hour on BBC Four’.
film commendably avoids the melodramatic. The sadness comes in drips – the restrained
emotions, the secret crying – but Macqueen wants to focus on this couple’s love
for each other, while they both ignore the crushing shadow that’s creeping on
them both. It only makes the inevitable end more precipitous: it’s less
about illness, and more about loss. An implosive storm gathers weight with
every mile driven.
very quaint and white and middle-aged and middle-class, but those don’t remove
from the tragedy of their situation. The abundance of red wine, knit-wear
jumpers, and beautifully desolate Cumbrian cottages turns the trip into a
picturesque journey. Nobody can tire of seeing the sun glimmer on a perfectly
reflective lake, backdropped by colossal hills that roll into the horizon.
Cinematographer Dick Hope captures the Lake District’s beauty without neglecting
that of Sam and Tusker’s relationship.
They visit Sam’s family home, where a
party’s organised. Both need air from the lovely people inside. Macqueen can
switch from cordial and amusing artifice to suddenly talking seriously with such organic pathos, burrowing into your soul with single, simple lines.
Although Tusker is a born conversationalist, wielding that stereotypical
guise of novelistic bohemia, his voice crumbles when discussing the hard subjects.
He has a predictably wonderful way with words, even going into full Lawrence
Krauss mode when explaining stars and constellations.
move on to a cottage of their own, where much of the film’s latter half takes
place. These are some of the most devastating scenes of the year. Colin Firth
can’t often escape his hoity-toity, upper-class, twit-Brit persona, but Supernova
proves again how genuine a dramatic actor he can be. The camera lingers hard on his
broken face as finally unleashes his feelings, after days of bottling them up.
is like a play in its minimalism, prioritising these performances and the characters
they engender. The connection between them feels rare, small gestures meaning so much. Love explodes largest in darkness, like stars in supernova, and
this film shines exceedingly bright. But it burns, too.
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2020. The release of Supernova has been postponed due to lockdown. The new UK release date is Friday 5 March 2021.
05 Mar 21 – 05 Mar 22, TIMES VARY
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