Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films in this year’s London film festival programme (alongside Francis Lee’s Ammonite) is the sophomore outing from British writer-director Harry Macqueen. World-premiering in competition at San Sebastián earlier this year, the drama is the second movie in the lineup to tackle the debilitating effects of living with dementia, following Natalie Erika James’s horror Relic. Macqueen’s is a much warmer and bittersweet approach in this powerful love story – with stars Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth – who are deserving of multiple award nominations with their phenomenal performances.
Written and directed by Macqueen, Supernova centres on best-selling writer Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and celebrated classic pianist Sam (Colin Firth), a longtime couple who have embarked on a road trip in their campervan across England. Following Tusker’s recent diagnosis of early-onset dementia, the two are treasuring the time they have left, visiting friends, family and their favourite places along the way to Sam’s piano recital.
The narrative gently unfolds as the couple navigate their caravan through the winding roads of the beautiful Lake District, lovingly bickering along the way over using maps as opposed to sat navs which “sound like Margaret Thatcher”, along with the merits of leaving fifth gear. But as Sam takes a brief pit stop, the real gravity of Tusker’s situation makes itself heartbreakingly clear, as he disappears from the van. Sam desperately races down the narrow lanes in an attempt to locate his partner, as he finally spots the addled writer with their dog, confused and visibly upset. It’s clear from the outset that Tusker’s condition is taking more and more of a hold, with his mental health deteriorating as a result.
On the surface, Supernova is a small scale production primarily composed of intimate interactions between the couple; the film closely resembles that of a stage play, which could frustrate some. But as events unfurl, it’s in the quiet, more understated moments where the movie and leads really come to life. McQueen focuses on tender and often funny glimpses at their relationship, with Sam falling off the single bed they share at his sister’s house a humorous highlight. The introspective road trip evolves into an affecting and heart-wrenching drama in the third act, as unspoken fears over their future finally surface, with Sam discovering Tusker is losing the ability to do what he loves most – write.
Firth and Tucci shine with career-best performances, perfectly capturing an authentic chemistry with their tender and intimate interactions. Their relationship feels so genuine, they’re clearly still deeply in love and enjoying the little moments in life, which makes the result all the more bittersweet. As anyone who’s unfortunately experienced their own loved ones go through an illness, it’s clear to see Firth and Tucci perfectly capture the wide array of emotions as they struggle to come to terms with the future. Firth brings his signature old-school British stoicism to the proceedings, so when Sam finally admits his fear of loneliness, it feels all the more impactful and poignant. Tucci’s delivery of the line: “I’m becoming a passenger, and I’m not a passenger. I want to be remembered for who I was, not who I will become” is truly sublime, hitting you with a real gut punch.
Beautifully framed with exquisite sweeping vistas, the two visit picture postcard views from popular Lake District locations including Buttermere, Crummock Water and Keswick. Regular Mike Leigh collaborator cinematographer Dick Pope couples the proceedings with a warm, Autumnal palette, which is perfectly twinned with a gentle piano and string score from Keaton Henson. Colin Firth’s closing performance of Elgar’s Salut d’Amour is also a wonderful addition.
A beautifully tender and deeply moving portrayal of love and loss as a couple come to terms with the debilitating effects of an irreparable illness. Featuring career best performances from Tucci and Firth, Supernova is an intimate and achingly touching drama which will undoubtedly leave very few (if any) dry eyes in the house.