Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play a couple on a road trip to acceptance.


Love and responsibility: Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci


Back in 2015, I acclaimed Hinterland which marked the debut of Harry Macqueen who now with Supernova belatedly gives us his second feature. The first piece, one in which Macqueen himself starred along with Lori Campbell, was a small-scale intimate work of exceptional distinction, quiet and poetic in character. When I first heard of Supernova and discovered that it starred two major actors - Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci - I feared that it would turn out to be bigger but less personal. Happily, I need not have worried for Supernova is again written by Macqueen himself and to their credit Firth and Tucci, both giving superlative performances, adapt to the tone needed to bring the film to life as a true successor to Hinterland. The unglossy approach taken combined with the emphasis being placed much more on character and situation than on any elaborate plot is central to Macqueen’s art. At the same time, it is not exclusive to him and for that reason Supernova reminds me of 2019’s Ordinary Love in which Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson similarly avoided histrionics to bring out the subtle depths of the central relationship.


In Ordinary Love the focus was on a married couple and the impact on them when the wife is diagnosed with cancer. In Supernova, Sam (Firth) and an American novelist named Tusker (Tucci) are a gay couple who have been together for some twenty years and the disruption that confronts them is not due to cancer but to the fact that Tusker is suffering from dementia. Furthermore, it has now reached the point at which he is sure that the deterioration will soon lead to the stage at which he can no longer recognise Sam who has put aside his career as a professional pianist in order to look after his partner. The two men are seen travelling northwards through England using a camper van and en route they plan to look in on Sam’s understanding sister, Lilly (a good cameo from Pippa Haywood). Nevertheless, like Ordinary Love, this is close to being a two-hander. Although both films involve a couple confronting a potentially fatal disease, each of them is at heart a portrait of a truly loving relationship which, seen in a time of great stress, illustrates and illuminates the depth of the bond in question.


This is not the only film to have put an ageing gay couple screen centre - one thinks of the 2014 piece by Ira Sachs, Love Is Strange. That was good, but the writing here is even better and Macqueen, in addition to bringing out the very English reserve of Sam and the brasher American style of Tusker, captures quite marvellously the idiosyncratic talk of two men born of their long years together. There’s no point in discussing which of the two fine actors is the better here since they both play off each other to perfection and each benefits from Macqueen’s refusal to succumb to sentimentality. I would also add that Macqueen has a real feel for music including songs heard in passing on the soundtrack and used to recall days long gone.


A couple of small issues hold me back from regarding Supernova as an out-and-out masterpiece. One is the fact that in the absence of the kind of subtle, positive note that came through at the conclusion of Ordinary Love this film threatens to be more downbeat than is readily bearable. The other is the way in which the last two scenes work: instead of one following on naturally from the other it is as though the film is trying out two alternative endings one after the other - either would work but not put together like this. But that matters little when you have two fine actors at their peak and a film that reaffirms Harry Macqueen’s standing as a splendidly individual talent.




Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter Macqueen, Nina Marlin, Ian Drysdale, Sarah Woodward, James Dreyfus, Lori Campbell, Daneka Charlotte Etchells, Halema Hussain, Julie Hannan.


Dir Harry Macqueen, Pro Emily Morgan and Tristan Goligher, Screenplay Harry Macqueen, Ph Dick Pope, Pro Des Sarah Finlay, Ed Chris Wyatt, Music Keaton Henson, Costumes Matthew Price.


BBC Films/BFI/Quiddity Film and The Bureau-StudioCanal.
93 mins. UK. 2020. Rel: 25 June 2021. Cert. 15.