The remarkable and inspiring story of a Rutland man whose life changed overnight when he fell ill is set to be brought to the big screen.
Starfish tells the story of Tom and Nicola Ray, whose lives changed beyond recognition when, in 1999, aged 38-year-old Tom contracted septicaemia.
He ended up having to have both legs and arms amputated and part of his face removed.
But Starfish is not a simple story of bad things happening to good people: it is a testament to the incredible things people are capable of when confronted with the unimaginable.
It is a film that has been more than 10 years in the making.
It is written and directed by the couple’s close friend Bill Clark, who lives in Seaton, and was inspired by their story.
Work finally started on production on Sunday and Tom, now aged 53, says it has been a surreal experience.
He met his wife Nicola, known as Nic, while training to be an actor himself.
Tom, of Alsthorpe Road, Oakham, said: “It’s been very very surreal, particularly having trained as an actor and wanting so much to be a part of that world, but it’s also a bit wonderful.
“It was an incredible thing to have happened and it’s right the story should be told.”
Tom will be played by his namesake Tom Riley, who gained international recognition for his portrayal of the young Leonardo Da Vinci in Da Vinci’s Demons.
Meanwhile his wife Nic will be played by Joanne Froggatt, who won a Golden Globe for her role as Anna in hit TV show Downton Abbey.
The film will also be Froggatt’s first feature executive producer credit.
Last week, Tom and Nic enjoyed a meal with the actors who will play them and it had an impact on all four of them.
Tom said that after meeting them, he felt confident that both Joanne and Tom Riley would portray his story with dignity.
Joanne said: “I have been truly inspired by Tom Ray and his family, and their incredible life and strength.
“I am honoured to be producing Starfish and dedicated to faithfully recreating his heart wrenching experience on the big screen.”
Tom Riley added that it was an “incredible story” and he hoped to ensure the story was as “accurate and truthful as possible”.
The nightmare for the Ray family unfolded as Tom was putting his daughter Grace, then two, to bed, and his wife was nine-months-pregnant. He is now a proud father to an 18-year-old daughter, who is currently on a gap year following completion of her A-levels at Oakham School, where she won a scholarship. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Freddie, is studying hard at Catmose College. Nic gave birth to Freddie while Tom was still in a coma on the other side of the hospital.
It was the support of his family that saw Tom make the recovery he has and although he says the first few years were difficult, he has been resolute in his determination that he will not be beaten by this.
He now works in the call centre at Lands’ End in Oakham, a job he has had for more than 10 years.
The county has played such a big part of the couple’s journey that it is fitting the film should be filmed in Rutland. Eyebrook Reservoir will double up as Rutland Water while eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot Hambleton, where the couple were living when the illness struck. The production crew have been welcomed with incredible support by the community.
The couple have been closely involved with the film and the screenplay is based on interviews with them and on Tom’s diaries.
They are also being consulted during production.
Bill Clark, director, said: “I found Tom and Nic’s story fascinating, because their challenges came so unexpectedly. Tom never put himself at risk, didn’t do sports, wasn’t a military man. He just woke up and found himself in a nightmare. He really could be any of us. They are extraordinary ordinary people and I found their acts of everyday heroics incredibly inspiring.”
Tom added: “We’ve had a lot of involvement with the film and I feel really confident that they will do a good job.
“From the moment it happened, Bill wanted to make a movie because it was such an extraordinary thing to have happened and it’s something we’ve been talking about since about 2002.
“It is really nice to be involved in a purely creative story. It’s not a factual docu-drama, it’s based on us but it’s also meant to be an entertaining and life-affirming story.”
Tom praised his wife Nic, who he said had not only been extremely encouraging about having the film made, but excited herself.
Tom said: “Nic is the most positive human being in the entire world and she is just so excited about it.
“Nic is very proud - she’s kept our whole family through the worst times and she is very excited to be involved.
“Nic loves this world of acting and filming and creating something which is hopefully beautiful and inspiring.”
“We met at university and she is interested in films and shooting movies, so in a weird way, despite everything our lives have come full circle.”
Starfish will be distributed by Genesius Pictures though its sales and distribution company.