Nowadays if you’re in the public spotlight thanks to newspapers, magazines, and social media, people know everything about you. From where you are, do, eat, work, relationships, the list is endless you could easily say is very intense. Let’s go back to a time when film stars had some privacy (Late 1970’s to early 1980’s). It was that good the working-class streets of Liverpool didn’t even know they had a Hollywood Icon living amongst them. In Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, that icon was Gloria Grahame.
Unless you are an A to Z guide to all things Hollywood or you’ve simply watched all her films or even a certain age the name Gloria Grahame will be unknown. Grahame was known more for her pre-1960’s work, a femme fatale of Film Noir (The Big Heat, In A Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart. She also starred in the fabulous It’s A Wonderful Life and Oklahoma).
Despite starring in some of the biggest films of the time, she’ll always be that ‘icon’ no one could remember. She was always known for her supporting roles than leading roles. But still, an actress who wasn’t scared to show her vulnerability next to her feminity. She could boast one thing some other actress more known couldn’t do, say has an Oscar on her mantlepiece (won for 1952 The Bad And Beautiful).
Annette Bening plays our aging Icon and we meet her in the opening scene in a theatre. She is unpacking her make up bag, her toiletries as she prepares for the stage. Meticulously getting ready, there’s a knock on her door and a call ‘5 minutes'(until the curtains for Glass Menagerie). Gloria collapses in agony. This scene reminds us she was once a superstar, but under the makeup, there is a real person.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, is based on the memoirs of Peter Turner (played by Jamie Bell). Following his on-off relationship with Gloria Grahame (Bening), focused on the final years of her life.
The pair first when the pair were living in a boarding house in 1978 North London. At first, Peter was unaware of Gloria’s stardom nor did he care she was in her fifties (he was around 26). The pair clicked right away despite there been nearly 30 year gap. It was when Peter introduced Gloria to his parents (Julie Walters & Kenneth Cranham), he truly appreciated Gloria was a true Hollywood Icon.
Their affair would go onto last two years which saw the pair experience many highs and many lows especially with Gloria’s Mother (Vanessa Redgrave)and very jealous sister (Frances Barber). Eventually, they would break-up with Peter truly heartbroken. However, things change when he gets an unexpected phone call… From Gloria.
When it comes to biopic director Paul McGuigan does well to stay away from the conventional tropes. At times has to tip his toes into those conventions, what we end up getting is something that’s raw, sensual, tender and sentimental. The film moves at times at a frantic pace highlight the star-crossed lovers had so many wonderful moments. The road was also rocky and at a blink of an eye the pair could argue or crash into a brick wall, break up.
At first, it was hard to pinpoint if their love was true love. For Peter, it was certainly ‘true love’, for Gloria it was something a little different, a little bit of fun. Was this relationship only feeding Gloria’s ego as she realised her glory days were fading away? Having a younger gaze falling over heels a reminder that she was once a femme fatale?
Peter is naive, even fearless, empathetic to his lady and madly in love despite the big age group? When Gloria socialises, Peter seems to happily play along, eventually becoming jealous even aggressive. His love deep. Jamie Bell delivers an honest solid performance, immature at times, passionate always.
Annette Bening is the star attraction here. Vulnerable, tragic icon who knows time is against her when it comes to stardom. Peter gives Gloria that last hurrah to be the screen queen. She was a free-spirited, tempestuous, imperious just a shame Bening never got close to the Oscar recognition she dearly deserves.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is a poignant unconventional biopic that’s tragic, emotional. Backed by our leading duo who created a fantastic chemistry a raw genuine romance. Just a shame not many people knew who Gloria Grahame was.
Paul Devine | [rating=4]
Biography, Drama, Romance | UK, 2017 | 15 | 19th March 2018 | Blu-ray, DVD | Lionsgate Films | Paul McGuigan | Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave