Starfish – New Release Review

starfish-unlimited-picturesWe take a look at true story Starfish as it opens in cinemas today…

Starfish is the true story of Tom Ray, as portrayed by his near-namesake Tom Riley. Tom Ray has a beautiful house out in Rutland, a wife who loves him enough to go back to work in order to allow him to work on his career as a children’s author, a beautiful daughter, and a son on the way. All is well, until what seems at first like a bad case of food poisoning turns out to be sepsis, a rare and terrifying condition which leads to his limbs and most of his face being amputated in order to prevent necrosis. In the months that follow, as he tries to regain his ability to walk, speak, and live his life, we see the personality of the loving father and husband we were introduced to begin to be eroded by the depression he faces in dealing with the monstrous unfairness of his situation.

It’s a difficult journey, sympathetically portrayed by Riley in a credible prosthetic. The film ends inspirationally, not only because that’s the way the real-life story ends, but also because it would be almost impossible to watch did it not. We are swamped with what’s often referred to as “inspiration porn”, uplifting stories in which people make use of their sheer heroic resolve in order to overcome their disabilities and achieve extraordinary things. What these types of stories miss is the humiliation of the situation – how emasculating it can be, how dehumanising. It is difficult enough to begin with to imagine the feeling of, say, being unable to use the toilet or climb the stairs by oneself. But that’s as nothing compared with your daughter telling you you’re not her father, or your wife being unwilling to make love to you. Under the circumstances, it’s easy to empathise with Tom even as he alienates his family, indulging in anger and alcohol. The person he almost becomes is genuinely unlikeable, yet entirely sympathetic, and that’s a feat rarely seen.

But it isn’t all Tom Riley’s show. Joanne Froggatt gives a multifaceted performance as his put-upon, endlessly loving wife, and five-year-old Ellie Copping proves an unusually convincing child actress as his daughter. Also worthy of note is Michele Dotrice, alumnus of such British comedy fare as Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, as Tom’s mother-in-law. She creates an often obnoxiously fussy, yet ultimately good-hearted woman who is far more appealing than the cliché of stubbornness Phoebe Nicholls portrays in the opposite rôle of Tom’s mother. Nicholls, incidentally, had a small part as the mother in The Elephant Man, another depressing and deeply human real-life medical story. Things, however, have improved since the nineteenth century, and Tom slowly but surely makes his way towards a modestly redemptive ending that may be predictable, but feels nonetheless earned.

Starfish opens today in UK cinemas, will you be heading out to see it? Let us know in the comment box below!


  1. Patricia Burrows · · Reply

    It was Heartbreak and Happiness, stunningly real tribute to a truly brave couple – more urgently important – it’s been done to try to raise awareness of the disease, in both the public and medical fields……recognised quickly it’s beatable…………

    1. Yes, a producer mentioned exactly that after the screening. Horrible disease, glad to see awareness is being raised.

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