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Supernova review: An unfussy, careful, utterly engaging drama

The heartbreak of looming dementia is made even more poignant by two masters of their craft, says Simon Brew.

Film distributors have faced some taxing decisions, as many of us have, over the last year or so. Faced with a slate of movies that had been set for a cinema release, they’ve had to effectively decide whether to stick or twist. Do they embrace whatever the new normal is and send their films to on-demand services, or do they hold out – for over a year – to ensure a cinema release?

With Supernova, a modestly budgeted road movie from distributor StudioCanal, few would have blamed it for cutting its losses. Originally set for release last year, and not getting much change out of 2021’s awards season, this isn’t going to do Fast & Furious 9-style numbers at the box office. Yet it firmly deserves its place on the big screen, and all power to its distributor for digging in.

The film stars Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, and on the surface it looks like we’re going to get a familiar-feeling road movie. Just with the road being in the UK, and the vehicle winding along it being a rather fancy camper van. But there’s soon revealed to be more than this journey, and a melancholic reason for it. Tucci plays Tusker and Firth plays Sam, a long-time couple who are facing Tusker’s dementia diagnosis. This feels like it’s going to be one of their last breaks, with the disease starting to wreak its evil.

Writer/director Harry Macqueen – who previously brought us 2014’s Hinterland – takes his time letting the details of their story seep out, at first giving us a very funny, entirely relatable, good old-fashioned row, but gradually letting the underlying reason for their journey come to the fore.

There’s a small ensemble cast here as the pair continue their journey, but quite where the roads of the Lake District take them is best left discovered for yourself. It spoils nothing though to say that Firth and Tucci are quite something in the lead roles. Macqueen has revealed that, at first, it wasn’t entirely clear who would end up playing which part, with the actors signing on the dotted line before that was decided. It’s hard to quibble with the roles they chose, as much as it’d be fascinating to see it the other way around. As things stand, there’s no fuss to either of their understated, human performances.

It spoils nothing though to say that Firth and Tucci are quite something in the lead roles.

The journey they take is a quiet one, in truth, and certainly in contrast to other releases this week it seems the very definition of counter-programming a work. Yet Supernova – with its economic and welcome running time – is a film that’s set to firmly lodge itself in your head for some time to come once you’ve seen it. An unfussy, careful, utterly engaging drama, boasting two excellent actors who understand that less is more.

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Had it been released last year, Supernova would surely have sat on a fair few top 10 lists come the end of 2020. Don’t be surprised to find it sitting high up come the 2021 roundups instead.

Five stars out of five

Supernova is in cinemas from June 25.

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