The sophomoric effort by writer-director Bill Clark, Starfish takes on the true story of Tom and Nicola Ray – an otherwise ordinary married couple whose lives were torn asunder by tragedy – to deliver a good old fashioned “for the grown-ups” weepie. Clark does an admirable job within this remit, smartly enlisting the impressive talents of both Downton’s Joanne Froggatt and TV’s Da Vinci, Tom Riley, to bring his subjects to life in a harrowing and tumultuous story that’ll doubtless find its way to a water-cooler-generated fanbase.
Riley plays stay-at-home dad and writer Tom, whose contracting of sepsis leaves him a quadriplegic with facial deformity. With wife Nicola forced to care for him and their two children full time, life quickly disintegrates for the couple as their lifestyle and economic circumstance begin to dry up, leaving both clinging desperately to their lives, but with neither in a fit psychological state to do so.
Aided by superb prosthetics and make-up effects, Riley delivers the performance of his career here, selling Tom’s plight with wonderful insight and never shying away from the rage bubbling under his surface. Froggatt too brings her all, carrying more of the story’s emotional weight than Riley, yet working in tandem with him to truly sell the couple as investable and engaging characters outside of their narrative function. Plaudits are due too for Michele Dotrice, whose turn as Froggatt’s put-upon mother elicits more than its share of lump-in-throat moments in a film already replete with as much.
Clark captures it all with a sensitive balance, going for the photo-finish veneer with his (rare) emotionally-uplifting moments, but taking proceedings tight and aggressive in their more challenging. There’s no doubt that, on the page at least, Clark’s story verges on the emotionally manipulative – it is a true story weepie, after all – but, frankly, why shouldn’t it? A harrowing and heart-wrenching tale brought to life by an evidently thoughtful and considered helmer with two superb leads, Starfish will stick with you for a fair while after its credits roll.
Starfish is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, October 28th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.