A film about early-onset dementia must be approached with a certain amount of resolve because you know that at some point things are going to get grim. This inevitability is leavened with grace and a lot of charm by the presence of two exceptional actors, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth, who happen to be very old friends and who obviously delight in each other’s company.

Together, they bring warmth and believability to the gay couple, Tusker (Tucci), a writer whose abilities are in rapid decline, and Sam (Firth), a pianist by profession who is tall and dependable – Tusker’s rock, holding up the world – and determined to see it through. Interestingly, the two were cast in opposing roles at the start but decided among themselves to swap.

Here, Tusker and Sam are on a road trip, enjoying what you suspect will be their last holiday, revisiting old haunts and squabbling convivially about directions and trivialities while listening to mainly ’60s music including, poignantly, Donovan’s “Catch the Wind”.

Their agenda slowly comes into focus. There will be a family visit, then a concert which will be a chance for Sam to stop being Tusker’s guardian and get back to performing, which Firth does, playing without a stunt double a very nice rendition of Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour”. Tusker, wry and talented and supposedly working on another novel, is at the pivotal point of his illness, still knowing what is happening and retaining some sort of control. If he misses the moment, there will be no going back. Outwardly, he is well but sometime soon he will forget who Sam is and what they once were.

The supernova motif and Tusker’s interest in astronomy threaten to be mawkish but director Harry Macqueen maintains the dignity throughout; the heavens are just a way for Tusker to look up at the galaxies and marvel that any of us are here at all. Ultimately, this is not a movie about illness but about choice and what love can mean.

Supernova opens in cinemas this week.

Also currently screening is Oscar-nominated film The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as a man in denial as he slides into dementia and Olivia Colman as his daughter – read our review of that film here.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.