Starfish is an undoubtedly powerful story of someone battling horrifying medical circumstance, made even more astonishing by the fact it’s a true story.
And that’s not “based on” a true story, aside from the addition of a narrative and structural motif in the form of the titular starfish and a slight condensation of timescales, this film is what happened. Scenes that happened are recreated. Tom and Nicole Ray, the two main characters in the story, were present on set almost everyday and were heavily involved in helping the production tell their story.
One night Tom (Tom Riley) feels very ill indeed, cripplingly so. He thinks he has food poisoning but in reality had an attack of Sepsis. The next day he is taken to A&E and, left waiting on a gurney, the diagnosis of Sepsis doesn’t happen early enough to help him. The necrosis in his flesh has to be removed and he loses his legs, his arms and the flesh around his mouth leaving him horribly disfigured. Wife Nicole (Joanne Froggatt) who is about to give birth, has to manage the family and lack of finances an is drawn and emotionally spent.
Essentially the story of this tiny budget Rutland based movie, is the path to acceptance of the horrendous hand that Tom and the family have been dealt. And it’s an admirably honest depiction of the pitfalls and damage their relationship has to overcome. In that sense it is a fairly linear story with, relationship troubles aside, not a great deal of narrative meat. It leaves things a little flat, with an ending which may not satisfy all audiences despite its positiveness.
It’s also a shame that that for a great deal of the film the audience is not trusted to feel emotions on their own and is given the most unnecessary music score to shovel extra pathos on top of the scenes. Rather than enhance the moment these bits of music are overused and detract hugely – turning the film into something closer to a Sunday night one off drama on TV. However the two leads do excellent work, particularly Joanne Froggatt, who in one key and incredibly well judged scene is allowed to pour out all of the frustration the sentence of this disability has placed on the family. It’s a bravado performance of staggering intensity and a moment which is worth seeing the film for.
Starfish is out in cinemas on 24th October and will make you reassess the way you look at unexpected sickness.