Film Review: “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
dir. Paul McGuigan 
Released Dec. 29, 2017

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” directed by Paul McGuigan and starring Annette Bening and Jamie Bell is a melancholy look at Oscar-winner and Classic Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Bening) during the final years of her life. The film delves into the real-life relationship between Grahame and Peter Turner (Bell), based on Turner’s memoir of the same name.

The film recounts the affair between Grahame and Turner, who is nearly thirty years her junior, during the late 1970s, just before Grahame’s death in 1981. Through flashbacks, the audience sees the beginning of their relationship before crashing back to the present, with Grahame ill and being taken care of by Turner’s mother in Liverpool, England. When the two met in 1978, the chemistry was instant, rendering age insignificant. Unflinching and raw, Bening portrays Grahame’s confidence and sensuality in an honest and vulnerable way. At the film’s beginning, it is almost difficult to see the age gap between the two: in a memorable scene, Grahame invites Turner into her apartment and the two dance together energetically and youthfully.

Bening brilliantly explores the depth of what it means to be an aging, and eventually ailing, woman desperately trying to maintain the flushed-cheek version of her prime. The chemistry she has with Bell is vivid and electrifying on-screen, thanks to authentic and powerful portrayals of all-consuming love in the throes of her final years. After a cancer diagnosis, Grahame determinedly attempts to capture the joie de vivre of her younger life, hiding her illness from Turner and her family in a bleak attempt to spare them the pain of knowing they will soon lose her. When Grahame finally allows herself to be sick, it is with a resigned sense of defeat. As Grahame and Turner share their last goodbyes, the audience can’t help but feel as if they too are losing an important person in their lives.

“Film Stars” is a love story without the happy ending, but with all the importance of what it means to have a respected and dependable person on which to lean. Together, Bening and Bell intertwine their passion and affection with the wistful tinge of both first and final love.

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