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Updated: Aug 20, 2021



UK 2020; 93 mins


Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in "Supernova" 2020
Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in "Supernova" 2020


Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth) are an older, comfy-slipper type couple. They are cultivated in an understated way; considerate of and well-used to each other. We meet them on a seemingly uneventful road trip to the Highlands where Sam is booked, somewhat reluctantly, to give a piano recital. Then Sam unearths Tusker's ulterior motive. There is a pit-stop with old, faithful friends along the way and the occasional, unsettling glitch in Tusker’s memory and speech. Little happens and yet the subject of Supernova is as momentous as the stellar explosion, after which the film is named.

In keeping with the art of the unassertive, apart from Tusker’s irritation with the satnav because it has the voice of Margaret Thatcher - “first section 28 now she’s telling us where to go on holiday” – director and writer Harry MacQueen refreshingly avoids stereotypes and overt gay signifiers in the portrayal of Sam and Tusker’s very long-term relationship.

Like the subtle hues of the landscape, they are a nicely-turned-out couple, pleasing company and self-contained. Sam is a concert pianist and Tusker a successful writer. Both men are unassumingly cultured and, in many ways, simply ordinary. Their compatibility is overriding and their squabbles minor.

Colin Firth embellishes his older character mostly with dignified restraint and Stanley Tucci with self-effacing humour. Tusker often seems to be on the brink of amusement despite the ensuing catastrophe. When his old friend Lilly (Pippa Hayward) reassures him that he is still the guy Sam fell in love, he replies “no I’m not, I just look like him, which is a shame.”

Whilst Firth and Tucci make a charming pair, the portrayal of the lovers errs on the side of comfortable, albeit deeply loving, friends. Perhaps this understatement is an honest representation of a longterm relationship but for much of the film there is an absence of spark between the couple. Thankfully this is compensated by an emotionally charged ending.

The eventual impassioned pleas from Sam and the sober acceptance of his fate from Tusker might be slightly at odds with character, but the undeniable devastation of dementia on decades of shared love is conveyed affectingly.

Supernova turns out to be multi-layered embracing a study of longterm love; a spotlight on dementia and a case for voluntary euthanasia.

Supernova is a slow-paced, poignant film, with a cast of popular British actors (excepting Tucci who is a popular American one) in a setting for sore eyes, all of which add up to an inevitable appeal. Neither lead steals the film, as both are equally noteworthy, but Colin Firth deserves the last applause performing Elgar’s moving Salut D’Amour.

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