Verge Reviews: Starfish

A few nights ago, I attended a press screening for Starfish, an Independent film that if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t know a huge amount about. I’d done a bit of research and made a few notes but not to the extent I usually do. It turns out, this was the perfect metaphor for my lack of knowledge on the subject on what the film was about. Sepsis.

At the screening, I was told a worrying statistic about the illness. In the UK alone, over 150,000 cases of Sepsis are diagnosed every year and around 44,000 of these result in deaths, with a lot of these occurring within 24 hours of the diagnosis. I was shocked to learn how little I knew about the brutal illness. Having spoken to a few friends, colleagues and even family members since the screening, it turns out I am not alone and I hope that with the release of this film, more people become aware of how to deal with this dreadful illness and the illness itself.

Starfish is a British Independent film written and directed by Bill Clark, based on the true and devastating story of the Ray family whose life is turned upside down when husband and father of two, Tom contracts Sepsis. During the course of the film we see how the illness threatens to break the incredibly strong love that bonds the family together as they struggle to cope with their new life while their previous, perfect life becomes a distant and incomparable memory.

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Tom Riley and Joanne Froggatt star as the real life couple Tom and Nicola Ray in this moving independent film. Froggatt’s performance in particular is superb and is one of the highlights of the film. Her raw performance of a wife and a mother who loses almost everything that she ever loved in her husband and, in particular, the way she has to deal with the continual stresses of her new day-to-day life as a carer, is performed with excruciating honesty and one that I’m sure will resonate with anyone who has struggled with their own lack of support and care for family members before.

Riley gives a believable performance of amputee Tom but I felt his strengths lay in the delivery of his dialogue instead of his physical performance. That’s not to say he was underperforming a crucial part of his character though, his walk in particular was delivered with great attention to detail.

My issue is down to the fact that in some scenes he struggles with many every day tasks, such as picking up a cup or bending down but then he is seen driving a car on his way back from a consultation with the plastic surgeon which to me, almost damaged the credibility of what he was clearly trying very hard to achieve with the character.

The change of direction of both Froggatt’s and Riley’s characters is showcased perfectly in a hard-hitting war of words after Tom falls out with Nicola’s Mum. The no-holds-barred encounter allows the characters to say exactly how they feel about their situation, each other and provides an outlook to show just how much their lives have changed.

Ellie Copping is another wonderful example of casting in this film. In her first ever on-screen performance she plays the role of Grace Ray, Tom and Nicola’s daughter, with the perfect blend of innocence and maturity. When you consider the importance of the father-daughter relationship in this story, she gives an incredibly truthful performance and is certainly one to look out for in the future.

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There is a lovely scene at the beginning of the film between Tom and Grace where Tom tells her a bedtime story about starfish and young Grace holds onto that moment throughout the course of the film and ultimately plays a huge part in the family’s happiness. I also really enjoyed the contradiction of both sets of parents. The cold and matter-of-fact presence of Tom’s Mum, played by Phoebe Nicholls and the kind and almost too caring Jean, played by Michelle Dotrice gives the film two stable supporting characters and provide the audience with another insight to the awful situation the family is in.

Performances aside then, what did I make of the film? It’s a good independent film. The story is obviously powerful and is certainly one that should be told. If I’m being ultra critical, I would say that film’s editing and visual elements are a bit rash and untidy. There is one scene in particular, the opening scene of the film where we’re shown a flashback into Tom’s childhood and his father leaving the house. Shot in black and white and slow motion with cut aways to the fairly bland reactions on the children’s face, it almost looks like a student film.

There are a few times when you’re taken back to Tom’s childhood and if I’m being honest, the scenes don’t serve any real purpose to the film other than showing how useless his father is. It is also a bit confusing in the sense that Tom appears to be very close to his brothers and sisters yet they aren’t even mentioned or referred to once during the rest of the film. If you’re going to go and watch this film, do not go expecting to be entertained for the whole 95 minutes, some scenes do drag on and there is more than a hint of some parts bordering on the predictable and dare I say it, cliché. But if you’re looking for a film that has good performances and a very strong and powerful story then I think you’ll enjoy Starfish.

As soon as I left the screening, I said that it felt more like an appeal to raise awareness of Sepsis more than a feature length film and truthfully, I’m fine with that. What Bill Clark has managed to do is create a moving film that will resonate with any families that have suffered from Sepsis and has raised awareness of the illness itself.

Starfish moved and educated me and I hope it does the same to others.

Rating: 3/5

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