Supernova

Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in a field


Supernova is an admirably tight drama starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. It gives us the who and the where immediately – Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), a long-established couple on holiday in the Lake District in one of those tiny RVs, a Fiat Autotrail, that offer all the creature comforts (cooking, sleeping, sanitation) a crab could want.

There’s a bed (the opening shot of a naked Sam wrapped around Tusker) and there’s banter as the two drive from one location to another, Tusker wheeling out the terrible jokes, Sam groaning in response, the pair of them reacting to the landscape and the songs on the radio as the vehicle snakes along tight roads, while their mongrely spaniel farts in his basket.

The “what” comes a bit later, when Tusker wanders off and an alarmed Sam has to find him. Tusker, it turns out, has been diagnosed with dementia and is liable to suddenly not knowing where he is. This trip together is both a reminder of happier times – they came this way when they first got together all those years ago – and a farewell, to their life together and to Tusker, who is disappearing bit by bit.

There’s barely any fat but a lot of poignancy in writer/director Harry Macqueen’s drama, which has roles so well suited to the actors – the wry humour of Tucci, the solidity of Firth both bubbling up into the characters of Tusker and Sam – that it’s a shock to discover that each man was originally cast in the other’s role. Tucci and Firth had to persuade Macqueen to let them at least try it the other way around. And here we are: it worked.

Stanely Tucci and Colin Firth by a lake
Co-starring the Lake District


Apart from a sequence set in the house where Sam grew up – a suprise party with his sister’s family and friends – it’s pretty much a two-hander, with Tucci having the hardest role. However many ways you think “putting on a brave face” can look, Tucci seems to have found a few more. There’s a sweet scene at the surprise party, where Sam’s sister, Lilly (Pippa Haywood), leans over and talks to Tusker about some new experimental treatment she’s just heard about. Tucci responds with a kindly “everywhere I go I get offered off-grid medical advice” expression. No more need be said.

In the dementia stakes Supernova is probably going to be overshadowed in the short term by The Father, with Oscar-talk buzz about Anthony Hopkins’s performance as the old guy losing his grip etc etc. But here the story is about two people being robbed – one of his identity, the other of the love of his life – and the film it’s closer to is Sarah Polley’s 2006 drama Away from Her, which starred a 66-year-old Julie Christie (Tucci was 60 when this was made) as a woman losing her memories while her husband looked on helplessly.

The austerity and beauty of the Lake District are an excellent backdrop, and the way that sun suddenly breaks through a sheet of grey cloud to turn the landscape into a sparkling thing of wonder is caught evocatively by DP Dick Pope.

Macqueen gives us an analogue of the “intimations of immortality” of Wordsworth – the poet most associated with the Lakes – in Tusker’s fascination with astronomy. We’re all made from dead supernovas, he tells Lilly’s daughter as they stare up into the night sky, in a little exchange also extolling the virtues of retaining a sense of wonder.

A tenderly wrought portrait of love – though there is a spoilerish depth charge for those who worry that “not much happens” – with a distinct movement from the superficially jovial to the more elegaic and mournfully sad, the light (but despairing) to the dark (but accepting). And there, having said what needs to be said and nothing more, it ends.

Supernova – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021






The King’s Speech

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

19 June

 

Wallis Simpson born, 1896

On this day in 1896, Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was only a few months old and she was supported by various members of her father’s family, until her mother remarried, though it was her father’s brother who paid for her to attend Maryland’s most expensive girls school. Bright, ambitious and always well dressed, Wallis was popular and in 1916 she married a US Navy aviator, Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. An alcoholic and womaniser, her husband and Wallis had an on-off relationship with Wallis also having affairs. In December 1927 they divorced. Wallis then married Ernest Aldrich Simpson, a shipping executive, lost all her own money in the Wall Street Crash, but continued to be comfortable, thanks to her husband’s wealth. In 1931 she met Thelma, Lady Furness, who was the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne. As her husband’s money also started running out, Wallis was also becoming closer to the Prince and, in 1934 while Lady Furness was in New York, she took over her role as unofficial royal concubine. In 1936, the king, George V died and Edward became King Edward VIII. His relationship to the divorced Wallis (on the way to her second divorce when Prince Edward became king) caused a constitutional crisis – as head of the Church of England Edward could not marry a divorcee. Under pressure, Wallis agreed to give up the King. But the King wouldn’t give up her and abdicated his crown rather than not be with, in the slightly shocking words he used in his radio speech to the nation, “the woman I love”. Wallis and Edward married a month later, in June 1937, though were ostracised by the Royal Family. Becoming the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the couple moved around Europe, where they were constantly suspected of being Nazi sympathisers, before Edward was made the governor of the Bahamas for the duration of the war. Where they were again suspected of being Nazi sympathisers, or even spies. After the war they returned to France, where they lived for the rest of their lives. The Duke died in 1972, Wallis in 1986.

 

 

 

The King’s Speech (2010, dir: Tom Hooper)

In many ways a small and average film, The King’s Speech is lifted into another realm by its looks and its performances. The story of the man who wouldn’t be king, but who is suddenly thrust into the role by the hasty abdication of his brother, Edward VII, it’s a triumph-against-adversity tale of a stuttering king and also a tentative bromance – his relationship with the speech therapist preparing him for (jeopardy alert) the king’s big speech. These tentpoles in place, let’s take a squint at the look of the thing. Shot not in the usual sepia tones used for stories set in the past, but in bright rich colour, it also makes much of the new technology that was around at the time. In particular there’s a fetishisation of radio equipment, microphones, dials and switches. The 1930s, we see, are a staging post between the old and the modern. These people are more like us than we know.
As for the cast, Colin Firth is exquisite as the new king, Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen is a fiery ball of tenacity wrapped in fluff, a fierce terrier you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of. But it’s Geoffrey Rush who should win the plaudits, as the speech therapist whose profession requires him to establish a doctor/patient relationship, but whose bluff Australian character tends more towards the matey. His attempts to subvert or otherwise get around royal protocol are what give the film a lot of its entertainment value. Rush’s performance as a whole is majestic (if that isn’t the wrong word), so many tiny tilts of the head conveying so much withheld feeling and knowledge. Fellow Aussie Guy Pearce really isn’t bad either, as the possibly gay, certainly effete Prince Edward, a dim, self-centred, pussywhipped hedonist with few redeeming features.
Like The Queen, made four years before, The King’s Speech is unashamedly royalist. How bloody marvellous they are, these people – decent paragons of middle class values (playing with the kids before bed), humble, thrifty and so on. The film chimes entirely with our new conservative puritan age – reassuring, deferential, aspirational, apolitical, cosy. Tom Hooper’s camera catches it all with a slightly impressionistic brush but he’s not afraid to use the camera to express emotion when it’s needed – angular rooms standing in for exposition of spiky mood. Most of all Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler are to be praised for their decision to do it straight – storytelling this bold and clear isn’t anywhere near as easy as it looks.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Four Oscars, including Best Picture
  • A cast of real depth, including Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle and Derek Jacobi
  • Geoffrey Rush – Oscar nominated but losing to Christian Bale (for The Fighter)
  • Eve Stewart’s smart production design

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The King’s Speech – Watch it now at Amazon