The only thing scarier than seeing the end of the road is being offered no diversion – not even the dreaded U-turn to assure you that you’ve simply missed the turning. This is something that partners of 20 years Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) know all too well, their route having been cruelly dictated by the latter’s diagnosis of early-onset dementia. And yet, though the prognosis for our protagonists may seem bleak, Harry MacQueen’s Supernova is anything but desolate. Crammed in alongside the couple as they trundle around the Lake District in a campervan arguing about sat nav and fifth gear, the viewer is so caught up in the moment that one might even forget to fear the final destination.
Even amidst the sprawling scenery, the central pairing is a supernova in itself. We could be anywhere and the surrounding world would still melt away, such is the magnitude of their on-screen chemistry. Firth plays the devoted and ever-cautious carer with an aching tenderness, while Tucci disarms as his vivacious counterpart, a born entertainer whose delight in teasing his other half is contagious. Their deep affection is double-edged – while at times it gives way to raw and guttural grief, it shines brightest in moments of humour. And just when you think your emotions are ready for early retirement, Firth throws in a piano performance that is sure to tempt out whatever tears you have left.
The draw of the characters showcases not only the talent of the leads but also the strengths of MacQueen’s screenplay. Many filmmakers have entered the rocky terrain of dementia and failed to escape unseating their audiences with bumps of melodrama. But here, the metaphors don’t feel contrived, nor do they feel cliched; they feel like the attempts of real people to express the inexpressible. Tusker dreads being a passenger in his own existence, and Sam dreads the empty seat. As with every case, their conversations are familiar yet utterly unique. Every discrete look, every subtle touch paints a picture of their past whilst skirting delicately around their future.
There are times at which the film perhaps spares us the more disturbing realities; the escapist nature of the journey means that despite the illness looming over the trip, we only fleetingly witness its implications. Granted, most of us know what dementia looks like – even if we haven’t seen it first-hand, it’s been documented throughout cinematic history. This is perhaps why it’s so refreshing to see an approach that immortalises the sentiment rather than the symptoms. “It’s not about fair, it’s about love”, says Sam in one particularly shattering scene, and that’s essentially what McQueen’s film boils down to. Supernova is not intended as a hopeless tragedy, but rather a love story in its purest form.
Supernova is released nationwide on 27th November 2020.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Supernova here: