Supernova (3 stars)

Supernova

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci star in this moving romantic drama from Harry Macqueen

Following in the wake of double Oscar winner The Father, dementia is under the microscope once again in Supernova – the emphasis this time is on the unique agony of losing a beloved partner piece by piece. What's immediately encouraging is the film's casting coup, with sophomore writer-director Harry Macqueen (Hinterland) bringing together Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a desperately devoted couple with heart-breaking decisions on the horizon.

When we first meet them, pianist Sam (Firth) and novelist and astronomy enthusiast Tusker (Tucci) are getting stuck into some affectionate bickering in their old RV as they set off on a road trip. All should be jolly, but Sam is shooting his partner concerned glances, while Tusker appears distracted. It's quickly revealed that the latter has been diagnosed with dementia, which seems to be taking hold. Their holiday acts as a trip down memory lane: they stop off at a favourite camping spot and at Sam's childhood home, in which his sister Lilly (Pippa Haywood) now lives with her family. Tusker is supposed to be working on his new book, with Sam preparing to deliver a recital for the first time in a long while.

Supernova has an appealing modesty and focus; a few brief supporting turns and muted celebrations aside, it offers little respite from the matter at hand, unless you count the sometimes gobsmacking beauty of the film's lush and airy Lake District backdrop. There's majesty in its melancholic approach, yet also something a bit stiff and almost stagey about the execution, which does suck some of the emotion out of this shattering scenario, with the script delivering a few more cliches than the material deserves; coming after the more original and immersive The Father probably doesn't do it any favours.

But it's all about that lead duo, and their pained performances convey their characters' sadness with great subtlety. Both really are excellent, and theirs is a thought-provoking situation, as Sam prepares to give everything up to be Tusker's carer, while the formerly gregarious Tusker sees no point in going on if he is to become a shell of who he was. Firth and Tucci's believability as a couple is a significant boost to the material – their tender gestures, long-standing irritations, comfortable silences, and way they gravitate toward each other in bed are hugely endearing. It's the little things that get you in this quietly devastating film.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 25 June.

Supernova

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • UK
  • 1h 33min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Harry Macqueen
  • Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Lori Campbell
  • UK release: 20 November 2020

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play life partners Sam and Tusker, who travel across England in an RV to visit family and friends while grappling with Tusker's early on-set dementia.