With an unusually personal approach to issues that usually overwhelm a movie, the sensitive and hugely involving British drama Supernova features knock-out performances from Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. Writer-director Harry Macqueen makes sure that weighty themes like homosexuality and dementia take a back seat to a much more intimate exploration of a long-term relationship.
Firth and Tucci play pianist Sam and novelist Tusker, who have been together for more than 20 years. Tusker has recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, so now they’ve decided to take an epic road trip around England in an old motorhome, visiting their closest family and friends. When they drop in on Lilly and Clive (Pippa Haywood and Peter Macqueen), they’re surprised with a lively party packed with people they love. And of course this night takes more than a few unexpected turns.
Along the way it becomes clear that Sam suspects that Tusker is seeing this trip as a farewell tour, and he’s planning to take his own life before it’s over. Sam clearly wants to care for him as long as possible, but Tusker feels that he doesn’t want to steal the rest of Sam’s life. This tension is expressed in quietly intense scenes that are played to perfection by Firth and Tucci, layering in prickly humour and the kinds of deep feelings that reflect their decades together.
It’s particularly intriguing to note that Sam has a more typical repressed British approach to their situation, while Tusker’s American faces everything head-on. This means that the usual elements of a dementia drama are flipped on their head, as it’s Tusker who is speaking more clearly, even when his mind gets a bit foggy. He also accepts the situation far more readily than Sam does, which makes their emotions powerfully moving.
While some of the plot points feel a little pushy, each scene is played with an offhanded delicacy, reflecting profound connections between these people. This adds an extra spark to the interaction between Sam and Tusker, as well as the superbly underplayed side characters. And because nothing is over-egged, it’s especially nice to experience the subtle mix of humour, joy and pain that mingle in each conversation. So even if the film travels the usual trajectory for these kinds of dramas, it remains intimate and honest.
Firth and Tucci are generous, fearless actors who fully inhabit these roles, beautifully conveying the intense affection between them. And veteran cinematographer Dick Pope gives the film a lovely visual sheen, capturing both quiet character moments and spectacular landscapes. Writer-director Macqueen weaves the characters’ sexuality into the foundations of the story, which gives each scene added nuance and meaning on a wider scale. And it’s a rare film that reminds us how important it is to nurture our senses of wonder and curiosity.
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Supernova is coming soon to cinemas and streaming platforms