Starfish review: Bill Clark’s film focusses on one family’s struggle to come to terms with the impact of septicaemia.

Starfish review, Paul Heath, October 2016

Starfish review

Joanne Froggatt and Tom Riley lead out the cast in this low-budget British drama which follows the ordeal of one family who must come to terms, both mentally and physically after Riley’s character develops acute septicaemia.

Riley appears as Tom Ray in this intriguing, often difficult to watch, though very important character drama based on actual events surrounding the Ray family in late-1990s Rutland. Supremely crafted, carefully and elegantly directed by Bill Clark, who also writes the screenplay, Starfish begins by centring in on a very successful young family in east Midlands England. With Tom just starting out as a children’s writer, wife Nicola (Froggatt) the clear bread-winner in a very successful career, and a young daughter the definite centre of their world, the family’s perfect life is sent into turmoil after Tom is diagnosed with septicaemia, a life-threatening condition which leaves him with four limbs and part of his face amputated. After surviving the severe type of blood poisoning (44,000 people every year aren’t so lucky), Tom returns home and the family’s life is immediately impacted. The film charts their real-life struggle as compromises must be met to accommodate Tom’s illness.

Starfish review

While Starfish is deeply unsettling to watch as one cannot even to begin to imagine the pain and suffering both Tom and his immediate family deal with this ruthless illness, it’s also very uplifting – particularly during the final few scenes. The filmmakers choose to use the real-life Tom Ray to act in various scenes hroughout – Riley’s face seamlessly super-imposed using various techniques. While at points the film comes across as a project which may have been suited to high-profile prime time television, one can’t help but applaud it.

The film’s clear intention is to bring huge awareness of this debilitating disease to the forefront, which it does admirably, but there is much more to it than that – notably the two performances by its two lead actors. Riley is outstanding as Ray, ably projecting his performance through prosthetics for what must be two-thirds of the film’s running time, but it is Froggatt who flexes her acting chops to overwhelming effect in a heart-rendering, supremely raw performance as the equally suffering Nicola, burdened by financial woes, personal heartache and loss as she adjusts to a new personal life. There’s one scene where the camera rests solely on her face and remains there for a number of minutes as she finally breaks down in front of her husband, seemingly accepting defeat – a scene which makes my eyes tear up as I type this.

Starfish is a film that will fly under the radar if you let it. Receiving a very limited release, it really deserves to stand out. A difficult though necessary watch.

Starfish review by Paul Heath, October 2016.

Starfish is released in selected UK cinemas on Friday 28th October, 2016. You can find listings of where it can be seen here. Click here from the UK Septis Trust charity website.