Supernova is Harry Macqueen’s second movie. It was both written and directed by Macqueen who spent a substantial amount of time researching dementia and visiting dementia support groups. The film is set against the stunning backdrop of the Lake District and features two very established actors and longterm friends playing lovers coming to terms with a young onset dementia diagnosis. Sam (Colin Firth) is a concert pianist. Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a writer and his partner of twenty years. Tusker’s beginning to develop the symptoms associated with a rare form of dementia which impacts his spatial awareness and balance as well as memory. I felt more could’ve been made of this fact. At times we see Tusker struggling with balance and fine motor skills but I feel Macqueen could’ve made more of the opportunity to inform his audience that not all dementias are predominantly related to memory loss.
Sam and Tusker have loaded up their camper van and taken off on a road trip across England, revisiting some of their favourite places around the area where Tusker grew up. They also stop to visit Sam’s sister, friends and family in his old home and plan to finish the trip with a piano recital, Sam’s first for a number of years. As the trip progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Tusker’s dementia has progressed to the point where both men must make some big decisions about their future. Tusker has planned to take his own life before the symptoms become too much for him to manage. When Sam discovers this plan, he is utterly devastated and raises some important questions about the nature of care and relationships.
There’s a lot to like here. The scenery is beautiful. The soundtrack is gorgeous. The party scene where Tusker gathers all his friends and family for the final time is a very moving piece of writing. It was fantastic to see a gay relationship explored as a dementia narrative and while I’m still not entirely convinced by the casting of two straight men in these roles, Firth does an admirable job and Tucci is a joy to watch. It was also refreshing to see a slightly more nuanced portrayal of dementia with a nod to symptoms beyond memory loss and linguistic confusion though as I said above, I do think more could have been done with this.
A few of the scenes were a little cloying. Less said the better about the closing scene where Sam plays his recital while somewhere, off screen, Tusker is supposedly taking his life. The film should have ended before this point. There was no need for an extra layer of schmaltz. I felt the movie rushed the conversation around end of life choices. There was so much more to be said and it seemed quite unbelievable that Sam should change his mind on this massive issue so rapidly. I also really hated the inclusion of a persistent extended metaphor about stars and constellations. It felt clunky and very much like it was trying too hard. And finally, my usual rant. Here we have a successful writer and a successful musician with enough money to make decisions about how they wish to live out the last part of their relationship. There is a notable gap in the world of dementia and film when it comes to exploring the working class experience. I’d like to see some characters who aren’t absolutely loaded for a change.
Saying this, Supernova is a pretty good watch. Catch it while it’s still in the cinema.
Supernova was written and directed by Harry Macqueen and released in the UK in June 2021