As writer-director Harry Macqueen’s Supernova opens we’re invited into the old, now seldom used camper van of pianist Sam (Colin Firth) and writer Tusker (Stanley Tucci), who’ve been together as a couple for decades, as they head to the Lake District. The rich history of their years together is immediately apparent in their rapport and in the natural, beautifully subtle work of the leads (themselves longterm friends in real life). Tusker, an American living in the UK, has been diagnosed with young-onset dementia and as the pair reminisce about their earlier visits to the Lakes they contemplate their future as his health deteriorates. Although Tusker makes frequent jokes (referring to the British-accented sat-nav as “The Irony Lady” because it remind him of Maggie Thatcher), he’s often prickly, frustrated by his decline, while Sam’s eyes are filled with adoration for his partner as he sees him slipping away from him, both are fearful of what lies ahead.
On their way to a rare piano recital Sam is reluctantly giving, which Tusker has arranged, the couple stop off to spend a few days with Sam’s sister Lilly (a fabulous Pippa Haywood ) who lives in their warm, memory-filled childhood home. Much of the film is spent with the two leads together in isolation, frequently within the intimate confines of their camper van, but in the second act Lilly’s house becomes filled with guests sporting winter woolies (comforting costume design by Matthew Price), friends and family whom the couple haven’t seen in a long time, including Tim (Gimme Gimme Gimme’s James Dreyfus) which gives us a glimpse into the couple’s past. In Macqueen’s elegantly spare screenplay much goes unspoken, and is left for the subtext and the actors’ faces to covey, but as a secret is unsurfaced it becomes increasingly clear that the two men have starkly different opinions about how to handle what is to come as Tusker’s dementia takes hold.
On the surface this might sound like a depressing ninety minutes, but in having to face illness and mortality, the couple’s love and devotion to one another is brought into sharp focus and ultimately what’s moving about the film is not so much the tragedy of what has befallen each of them, but the beauty of what binds them. Tusker is fascinated by and knowledgeable about the night sky and the pair spend time stargazing, which along with a speech about the lifespan of a star (which gives the film its title), and the breathtaking northern English landscape captured in its rugged majesty by Oscar and BAFTA nominated cinematographer Dick Pope’s stunning compositions, Supernova continually contracts to the intimate and expands to the infinite; while the road trip itself echoes the couple’s life journey together, with the end now in plain sight. The autumnal palette and gorgeous closeups are captured by Pope using vintage 1950s Cooke Speed Panchro lenses, giving the digitally shot images a rich, textured, filmic quality. Sam says at one point that if he could have one wish it would be that their Lake District holiday would never come to an end, and there’s an unhurried, lingering sense of wanting to preserve time in Chris Wyatt’s (God’s Own Country) delicate editing. Keaton Henson’s economically used, achingly beautiful score, his first composition for a film, largely employs a ten-piece string ensemble and feels as truthful as the lead performances as it reassures, uplifts, and gently devastates. Macqueen’s Supernova is a poignant, tender, understated meditation on love and an unpretentious reflection upon our place in the universe.
Supernova will be released in theaters Friday January 29th and on digital Tuesday February 16th 2021.