Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Starfish Movie Poster Image
Intense British drama about a family dealing with illness.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive messages.

Positive Messages

Overcoming disability and trauma. Living with a disability. Families sticking together through hardship.

Positive Role Models

The Rays are a devoted family, showing each other support and affection after a traumatic event. Both Nicola and Tom show great courage and perseverance as they come to terms with Tom's illness. However, their relationship is tested by this newfound pressure, and an absent parent causes further rifts within the family. Doctors misdiagnose Tom's medical condition and ignore his and his family’s concerns. Tom's mother is something of a stereotypical "mother-in-law" character. Central roles for females. Some diversity among the cast.


Both the painful initial stages of sepsis and the devastating consequences -- including the need for amputations -- are shown in detail. Household object smashed in anger. Shouted exclamations that intimidate others.


Romance and some affection between a clothed married couple, sitting together on a bed. Kissing.


Language used includes "bloody" as an exclamation, "f--k off," and "f--king."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reference to "going to the pub." Adult characters drink alcohol with meals. Character drinks alone as they battle depression and post-traumatic shock.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Starfish is a heavy British drama that deals with the after effects of a devastating illness and the impact it has on a family. Inspired by a real-life case, Tom Ray (Tom Riley) suffers disfigurements and amputations after contracting sepsis. At the start of Tom's illness, he is shown in pain and distress. He is later seen in hospital where he requires both arms and legs to be amputated. The movie tries to communicate a positive message where possible, despite Tom's difficult circumstances. This is often done through Tom's wife, Nicola (Joanne Froggatt). She supports her husband while raising two young children and dealing with her own shock caused by Tom's illness. She must also contend with the family's financial troubles. Both Tom's and Nicola's mothers feature in supporting roles, causing conflict within the family on occasion. Less positive representations are of various medical professionals, who frequently ignore severe symptoms and dismiss concerns that Tom's condition is more serious than what it turns out to be. Tom's depression and trauma sometimes boil over, causing him to snap at loved ones and one occasion smash a wine glass in frustration. Characters are shown drinking wine with meals. But there are some instances of Tom drinking alone while suffering from depression and feelings of helplessness. Some occasional swearing includes variants of "f--k."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bylucinalm December 10, 2020


good movie

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What's the story?

STARFISH is a British drama that follows the harrowing ordeal of the real-life medical case of Tom Ray (Tom Riley), who contracted sepsis and needed drastic surgeries to save him. Together with his wife, Nicola (Joanne Froggatt), and two young children, Tom and his family try to come to terms with his new disabilities and rebuild their lives together.

Is it any good?

A well-meaning, real-life, tragic story designed to raise awareness of a damaging illness, Starfish unfortunately falters with a clunking script. It manages to rush through the aftermath of a missed sepsis diagnosis, but also drags throughout. Compressing a factual timeline into just 95 minutes means it's difficult to get a true sense of the long-term struggle of Tom Riley and his family, while at the same time the movie often feels repetitive, as Tom's moods fluctuate throughout.

The latter may be accurate, but it makes for a disjointed story. The result is something that looks and feels more like an under-developed and overly sentimental TV drama, despite the cast's best attempts to handle the sensitive subject matter with the respect it deserves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Starfish portrays Tom's illness. Were you shocked at how sudden his infection was, and the measures needed to save his life? Did you find these scenes upsetting? Was the fact the story is based on real life make it even more shocking?

  • Discuss the impact Tom's illness has on his family. How do they deal with it? Discuss some of the character strengths Tom and Joanna display in order to come to terms with the situation. Would you describe either of them as role models? If so, why?

  • Discuss some of the language used. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What does it contribute to the movie?

  • The movie is based on a true story. Do you think that means everything happened exactly the way it's shown here? Why might filmmakers change some facts while making a movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love emotional drama

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