Greetings again from the darkness. Relationships end. Sometimes that brings relief, other times pain. For long time couple Sam and Tusker, the end is speeding towards them and they are each taking approaches on how best to handle. Writer-director Harry Macqueen delivers a tender story that is elevated by two extraordinary lead performances.
Colin Firth (Oscar winner, THE KING’S SPEECH, 2010) stars as Sam, a concert pianist, and Stanley Tucci (Oscar nominated, THE LOVELY BONES, 2009) co-stars as Tusker, a published novelist. These are arguably career best performances from both, and they complement each other so well on screen that we simply forget we are watching actors and accept the plight of this couple – of these two men. Driving along in their RV from a bygone era, they have the familiar exchanges that come from spending a lifetime together. We enjoy their banter, but it’s Sam’s opening line that sets the tone when he says, “We’re not going back, you know”. He’s referring to a suitcase that Tusker didn’t allow him to help pack, though soon enough we realize that line is even more to the point when it comes to their life journey.
As the bucolic northern England countryside passes by, it becomes evident that Tusker has early onset dementia. Though more present than not, he sometimes forgets a word, while in his worst moments doesn’t know where he is or how he arrived. The purpose of the trip is two-fold: Sam is giving a ‘comeback’ concert after many years away from the circuit, and this is Tusker’s farewell visit to family and friends. Of course, we (and Tusker) also recognize that this is likely the final fond memory this couple will make. While Sam is insistent that he can help Tusker remain productive, Tusker is well aware that he will quickly become a burden to the man he loves – and that’s not something he wants to see happen.
Dementia is a slow fade, often over many years. Recognizing that it’s happening to you is as painful as watching a loved one decline. People deal with this in their own way, and Macqueen’s film handles it gently, while the actors exhibit much grace in their portrayals. The line, “It’s not about fair. It’s about love” really struck a nerve, and made it clear that these are two characters we like and believe in – inside a story that’s heart-wrenching. Star-gazing plays a role here, and there’s only a mild poke at Margaret Thatcher’s policy towards gays. This isn’t a movie of politics, but rather one of emotions and humanity. Not much happens here … only everything. Best to reach for the stars, as “we’re not going back.”
*side note: I did have to look up “frog-marching” since it’s used in conversation, and I had not previously heard the phrase.
The film hits theaters on January 29, 2021 and Digital on February 16, 2021