Two great performances enhance a powerful film dealing with dramatic subject matter.



Tom Riley


On watching this film the total commitment of all involved is self-evident. The drama that is played out is a real one (despite the usual statement that some liberties have been taken with the facts, this is indeed a portrayal of actual events and the film's aim is not to entertain but to inform). Tom and Nicola Ray, a couple living in Rutland, have bravely allowed writer/director Bill Clark to tell their story and part of their reward for that is to witness outstanding performances from Tom Riley and Joanne Froggatt who portray them on screen.


We first meet the Rays when all seems well with their world: their respective mothers (Michele Dotrice and Phoebe Nicholls) may not hit it off, but this is a happy marriage enhanced by the presence of their young daughter, Grace (Ellie Copping), and with another child on the way. When Tom is taken drastically ill it is as unexpected as being struck by lightning. It turns out that he is a victim of sepsis which, involving multiple organ dysfunction, is often fatal and, although Tom survives, it is at the cost of losing limbs and of needing to have the lower part of his disfigured face rebuilt. This is harrowing stuff but told to increase awareness of sepsis and to encourage further research into it.


Faced with such material, the critic, whose function extends to pointing out weaknesses, may feel that it is in poor taste to criticise such honourable work. But I do need to explain why I regard Starfish as less than a masterpiece. As the music score with its emphasis on the piano witnesses, Starfish doesn't quite escape being sentimental on occasion and, in a film that is so harshly real, the use of a symbolical tale about a starfish which, unlike Tom, has the ability to regrow lost limbs smacks of a fictional device (a somewhat symbolical climax to the film fares better). But, that said, this is unquestionably a work to admire. Especially praiseworthy is the screenplay's refusal to downplay the tensions that inevitably arise between the couple. It could hardly be otherwise given the burden imposed on the loyal Nicola (who is undoubtedly the heroine of this tale) and Tom's inevitable difficulties in adjusting to no longer being the man of the house as before. The dramatic climax is the episode towards the close when the couple let loose their pent-up anguish and it finds Froggatt and Riley matching up quite magnificently to the challenges of this scene.  




Cast: Joanne Froggatt, Tom Riley, Ellie Copping, Michele Dotrice, Phoebe Nicholls, Oliver Cunliffe, Joseph McErlearn, Isla Crowther, Greg Hastie.

Dir Bill Clark, Pro Pippa Cross, Joanne Froggatt, Melanie Paton and Ros Hubbard, Screenplay Bill Clark, Ph Clive Norman, Pro Des David Bryan, Ed Carmela Iandoli, Music Paul Saunderson, Costumes Alison McLaughlin.

Genesius Pictures/Unlimited Pictures/Flix/Origami Films/CrossDay-Genesius Pictures.
95 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 28 October 2016. Cert. 15