Every so often a film comes along that was clearly a passion project for all of those involved. Starfish is one such film. It tells the (true) story of the Ray family, who’s lives are so dramatically changed – seemingly almost in an instant – when father of the family, Tom, contracts septicaemia and has to have his limbs removed so that he can survive. It is heartbreaking to watch, but told in such sympathetic, touching and convincing fashion, and with superb performances from its relatively unknown cast. It’s also the type of movie which would usually be more at home on the small screen, due to its subject-matter/budget, yet it puts a case forward for more of these types of films being made for and shown in cinemas. Of recent cinematic releases, it is perhaps closest to Me Before You in its overall tone and feel – that film having a different outcome and a more famous cast, but the audience for that would likely be equally compelled by this.
The film opens with beautiful shots looking out over Rutland Water, while Tom plays with his daughter. These shots and this mood are in stark contrast to the horror that is about to befall Tom and his family. It is in this opening 10 minutes or so that we are introduced to the motif of the starfish in the film’s title and flashbacks of Tom’s life as a child, when his father walked out on his mother with a younger woman. It is also these two devices which don’t really add a lot to the movie – being blips on an otherwise very focused story, portraying the extreme emotions which the Ray family have to go through as a consequence of Tom’s illness.
It is Joanne Froggatt, playing Tom’s wife Nicola, who really stands out when conveying these extreme emotions. She steals the screen on multiple occasions, as she communicates the ordeal that she and her family are going through. Tom Riley, who plays Tom Ray, also comes across as utterly convincing in his role – he is helped along by lifelike prosthetics work, which was created by London’s Millennium FX make-up department headed by Melissa Lackersteen. Ellie Copping – who plays their daughter, Grace Ray – should also get a nod as a child actor with a lot of natural talent. She could go far in the future.
Starfish is essential viewing. It’s the type of film that doesn’t get made often enough, let alone for the big screen. It is beautifully crafted at times and with a focused retelling of the Ray family’s tragic ordeal. It should also help to raise awareness of Sepsis, which it should be commended for. So what are you waiting for? Just go to see it.