VOD film review: Supernova
James R | On 27, Sep 2021
Director: Harry Macqueen
Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci are two national treasures (albeit from different nations) who don’t always get the chance to sink their teeth into a meat lead role. Supernova, the new drama from Hinterland director Harry Macqueen, gives them both room to take the lead together, and the result is a showcase for two performances that are so stunning you don’t even notice them.
They play Sam and Tusker, a couple who have spent decades together to the point where they communicate in silence as much as in words, and Firth and Tucci convey that lived-in familiarity with every crumpled smile, crinkled frown and quiet tear. Tusker, a respected author, we soon learn has early onset dementia and Sam, a successful pianist in his own right, is bracing himself for the years ahead supporting him – and, in his quietest moments, contemplating the years beyond that.
For now, they choose to enjoy their time together as much as possible, traversing England in an old campervan to visit loved ones and loved places from their past. It’s a beautifully observed journey, one that brings them to Sam’s family and a cottage near to where Sam is meant to deliver a comeback recital.
His choice of career is a particularly poignant one, as Sam can only play the piano by himself, and a glimpse of him sitting at the keys in melancholic solitude (a bravura single take shows Firth actually playing) highlights just how intertwined the pair are in every other respect. Able to understand each other’s half-words, Tusker’s fading vocabulary is both a non-immediate issue and a gut-punching blow – one of the most powerful scenes sees Sam read out Tusker’s planned speech to his family, in which he ends up talking about himself in third person. Watching both of their barely composed expressions during this shared, yet detached, address is enormously poignant, and Macqueen’s probing but never intrusive camera lingers on close-ups and hovers at a distance whenever the occasion calls. It’s a tragic but strangely uplifting watch, one that’s filled with as much fuzzy warmth as their many cardigans and jumpers – expect awards for both actors.
The title stems from the moments where Tusker schools Sam in his newfound passion for stargazing. Watching stars fade out of existence against a dauntingly blank canvas, there’s both a keen appreciation of blazing farewells and a profound understanding of new beginnings – both weighed against a history of challenges that we implicitly know, without either talking about it, they’ve come through together. Many of the lights that we see still twinkling were extinguished eons ago, but this tender, introspective drama leaves us in no doubt that theirs is a bond that will keep burning for a long time to come.
This review was originally published during the 2020 London Film Festival.