Dementia Helpline0800 888 6678

‘Supernova’ is an informed, touching film about love and loss in the face of young onset dementia

Dementia UK was invited to a pre-release screening of ‘Supernova’, which tells the story of a middle-aged gay couple after one of the men was diagnosed with young onset dementia

Tusker (Stanley Tucci), who has received a diagnosis of dementia, is a writer, which makes the progression of his condition – and his dwindling ability to write – even more difficult for him. Sam (Colin Firth) is a concert pianist, who has put his career on hold to prioritise his partner.  

While the story is a fictional account, it mirrors the experience of many people of working age who receive a dementia diagnosis. As a person’s abilities change, work may become challenging and although employers should make ‘reasonable adjustments’, most younger people with dementia are not able to stay in work in the long-term.

And as with Colin Firth’s character in the film, the spouse or partner may find they have to reduce their working hours, or give up work completely, in order to provide support.  

The film is the result of a three-year research process by the writer and director Harry Macqueen, who worked with some of the UK’s leading dementia specialists at UCL and the Wellcome Trust, as well as a number of people affected by the condition. Macqueen was inspired to write the script after a colleague was forced to leave her job as a result of dementia. Sadly, a year later she had died.

Around the same time, a friend of Macqueen’s had to make the difficult decision to move her father into a care home – he had just turned 60.  

A still from the movie Supernova

The film begins in what feels like the relatively early days after the diagnosis. Sam and Tusker have just left for a holiday in their rickety motorhome, heading for the beautiful Lake District, aiming to stop off to see friends and family on the way.  

It soon becomes apparent that both men know that Tusker’s condition has worsened, but it takes some time for them to admit this to each other. At one point early on in the film Tusker asks his partner: “Can you tell? That it’s got worse?” Sam stays silent, refusing to answer. Gradually, it becomes clear to the viewer that Tusker is having difficulty dressing, walking, reading, recalling words and writing, and he becomes more and more drawn to simply staring up at the stars.  

The film’s depiction of a same-sex couple and a storyline of dementia makes it the first major film ever of its kind.

And it’s an important story, since going through a diagnosis of dementia as an LGBT+ couple can add a whole new layer of challenges and added stigma when seeking care 

For some people, having to ‘come out’ to health and social care services can be extremely difficult for fear of hostility or prejudice, but hiding parts of your identity can be very stressful, especially through a diagnosis of dementia. It can also be a challenge for people to assert their identity as their condition develops, which can be very distressing – for example, care providers may not use the person’s preferred terms to describe their sexuality, gender identity, or their relationship with their partner.  

‘Supernova’ presents a short period in the lives of Tusker and Sam and doesn’t delve into issues faced in the later stages of dementia, like paying for the cost of care, or developing a care plan as a gay person. But what rings most true about this film, and what makes it beautiful, is the relationship between the two men and the strength of love between them in the face of loss. This pride month, that’s a really important story to tell.