BFI LFF 2020

Supernova review – quietly tender autumnal love story

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are perfectly matched in Harry Macqueen's grounded romance about early-onset dementia

The beginning of Supernova has all the markers of a pleasurable road movie. Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) are a middle-aged couple bickering over the satnav and the speed limit, making pit stops on the way to a relative’s house. Then their comfortable domesticity is lost when Tusker disappears. A distressed Sam finds him down the road. Tusker is unsure of why he’s there. This road trip, it turns out, is likely to be their last.

Harry Macqueen’s quietly tender film grapples with the realities of dementia with an intimacy unlike other films that have approached the subject – films like Still Alice that, above all, aim to wring out as many tears as possible. “You’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive,” Tusker says at one point, acknowledging that his diagnosis has triggered what feels like a prolonged goodbye. But Supernova doesn’t gawk at his illness. Instead, it keeps its focus on its central couple, and how they re-negotiate their love for one other in the face of the inevitable.

Firth and Tucci complement each other perfectly. Every gentle touch exhibits a casual intimacy you'd expect from a couple who have been together for decades. Firth’s propriety clashes with Tucci’s innate charisma, resulting in a playful dynamic that is always enjoyable to witness. Their disparate personas operate in more disarming ways, too: when they can no longer avoid tiptoeing around Tusker’s dementia, it’s Sam who loses his composure first – a welcome surprise considering Firth’s trademark decorum.

Supernova may also live on as one of cinema’s great autumnal movies. With Firth and Tucci wrapped up in thick knitted jumpers throughout, watching the film feels like cosying up to a fire while the cold encroaches. Cinematographer Dick Pope (a Mike Leigh regular) also captures the scenic Lake District with such softness and reverence that even a roadside Spar miraculously appears right out of a painting.

Like its title suggests, Supernova looks to the stars to make sense of the world. The endless expanse of the night sky looks wondrous, yes, but it’s also lonely and isolating – a reminder of how small and painfully mortal we all are. If Supernova comes across as a little overly sentimental in places, it’s balanced by its ability to steer clear of tragedy, as Sam and Tusker discover that there is so much to treasure right here on Earth.

Supernova was screened as part of the BFI Film Festival 2020. Find out more and get showtimes here.

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