Staring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is the new offering from Lucky Number Slevin director Paul McGuigan. Based on Peter Turner’s memoir of the same name, the film recounts the story of Turner’s relationship with former classic Hollywood era star Gloria Grahame, a household name in the ‘40s and ‘50s, who sadly fell out of grace in her later years and had to content with a few TV roles and the odd theatre stint in London’s West-End. Following an episodic narrative which is cleverly constructed around Matt Greenhalgh’s beautifully crafted screenplay, the film manages to capture only a glimpse of the former star’s life, but does it with a great deal of tenderness and solemn reflection towards its subject.
The film opens with a beautifully set-up sequence in which Gloria (Bening) is seen going through her usual ritual of getting ready to go on to stage. As the camera lingers on the ageing film star’s hands, she unpacks her toiletries and precedes to meticulously put on her make-up, and then comes a knock on the door and an English voice informing her that she has five minutes until curtains. Next, Gloria is taken ill and is seen clutching her stomach in agony. Picking up from there, McGuigan recounts the story in a series of flashbacks, bringing the story back to 1981 each time.
It’s 1979 and Peter Turner (Bell), a young Liverpudlian stage actor is renting a room in a guest-house in North London. When he first meets Gloria, who has also moved into one of the rooms while staring in a West-End play, Peter is instantly taken by her, despite being several decades younger than the former star. The two instantly strike up a friendship and later fall in love and become inseparable, with Peter making the trip back to LA with Gloria and eventually settling down with her in New York. However, things soon start to fall apart and the young man is forced to make a decision which will not come easy to him, leaving his and Gloria’s relationship in tatters.
Jamie Bell puts in a commendable turn as Peter, his ability to inhabit the movie’s late ‘70s world with such ease and assuredness is truly impressive. His Liverpool accent in more than adequate, as is his ability to convey the genuine love and tenderness his character felt towards Gloria. While Bening puts in another Oscar worthy performances as Gloria, she mimics the star’s mannerisms to the tee, right down to Gloria’s typical babyish starlet speech. Kenneth Cranham and Julie Walters excel as Peter’s parents, as does the always brilliant Stephen Graham as Peter’s brother.
McGuigan manages to tell a truly touching story without resorting to any superfluous narrative devices. His generosity toward his actors is second to none, giving them just enough melodrama to work with without ever overdoing it. A genuinely moving piece of filmmaking which is sure to touch even the most cynical amongst us, and a serious contender come awards season, especially for Bening and Bell.