Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Love, just like in the movies

There is a tremendous warmth and tenderness to Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, a sweet, sad love story starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. In a stranger-than-fiction true romance that unfolds in Los Angeles, New York, London and Liverpool, director Paul McGuigan finds the balance between pathos and humour.

Poster for Film Stars Don't Die In LiverpoolAs an unknown, struggling young actor in the late 70s, Peter Turner (Bell) met and fell in love with Gloria Grahame (Bening), the legendary Hollywood star and Oscar winner (The Bad And The Beautiful). She was in the endgame of her career yet maintaining a never-say-die optimism, looking for stage work in Britain and suppressing worries about her health. Then, some time after their affair ended, Turner received a phone call: Grahame had collapsed in her dressing room while on tour, and was asking to come and stay with Peter and his family in Liverpool, convinced that she could recover there.

Bell is very affecting in the role of Peter, exasperated and angry with his impossible superstar ex-girlfriend, and yet still in love with her to the very last. And Bening is excellent as Grahame: imperious, vulnerable, romantic, sexually excited about her younger man, wanly aware of secrets she cannot share with him. She is not so much a Norma Desmond figure, staying big while the movies got small; she is closer to someone her mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave) compares her to: Marilyn Monroe, an actor having to stay tough while life and showbusiness give her the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

There is a great spark between Bell and Bening, and I think these are the most relaxed performances I have seen from either of them. It is very touching when Gloria first invites Peter into her room in the middle of the day to do a little disco dancing, ostensibly because she needs someone with whom to rehearse a routine. Of course, it is a seduction, and yet there is something very innocent, and absurd, and almost childlike, about the pair of them bopping around her room. It’s a scene that allows us to believe in their romance, and allows us to have a romance with the pair of them.

It’s a beguiling story and Bell and Bening are tremendous as the star-crossed lovers.

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

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