Released: 17th November 2017
Directed By: Paul McGuigan
Starring: Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Jamie Bell
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
A blonde starlet who was deeply entrenched in the history of classic film noir, at the height of golden age Hollywood. Oscar winner Gloria Grahame regularly thrived in playing the archetypal ‘femme fatale’ role.
Just another victim of the frightfully common case of an ageist system towards women, you would hardly expect her to illuminate the city of Liverpool with her presence. Capturing the essence of her twilight years, this late career move lays the foundations for this gorgeously observed adaptation of Peter Turner’s memoirs.
Impeccably structured by director Paul McGuigan and scriptwriter Matt Greenhalgh, with visual trickery that wouldn’t look out of place in a wondrous West End production, complimenting the contrasting careers and status of its loved-up protagonists.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool seamlessly shifts between Gloria (Annette Bening) and Peter’s (Jamie Bell) charming meet-cute in 1979 London and the poignancy of her final days in 1981 Liverpool.
Grahame in her late 50’s crossing the pond for a new play, looking to stave off career stagnation. Twenty-something Peter in the early infancy, looking for a steady stage role. Bonding over Saturday Night Fever and disco-dancing that prompts a wonderfully exuberant sequence between the two, proving Jamie Bell hasn’t lost his rhythm from the initial Billy Elliot days, their chemistry is palpable as they make a mockery of the significant age difference.
Their relationship may blossom, yet the both scandalous and tragic secrets Gloria looked to bury Stateside become increasingly tougher to conceal, as she becomes a prominent figure in the modest family home Peter’s parents Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) inhabit.
Director McGuigan applies a glossy and radiant sheen to the production, befitting of the vintage fashion its leading lady embraced, yet it never overpowers the impending dramatics of its story. Gradually dialling down the colour scheme across its runtime, its ensemble mirror the approach as the raw vulnerability of these characters spills out on screen.
Not to imply the film is completely joyless, as it delivers consistent wit through such unlikely situations of glamorous Gloria gracing a standard pub as landlords look perplexed, or a cinema trip that leaves her giggling at Peter’s horror of an iconic film sequence.
Annette Bening and Jamie Bell respectively are outstanding, building a credible romance that you can’t help but fall in love with. Thankfully avoiding pale imitation, Bening’s portrayal of Gloria is both bubbly and bruising in its emotional impact. Whilst Bell’s heartfelt take on Peter Turner may be a career-best, simmering with sex appeal, with one particular indulgence in a classic Shakespearean text with his co-star likely to provoke tears.
Exquisitely crafted and performed. ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool’ is an utterly charming and beautiful portrait of its starry subject matter.