BFI London Film Festival: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Starring Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham and Frances Barber
Screening at LFF October 11th, 12th, 15th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

In 1981, decades after Hollywood star Gloria Grahame’s heyday, the Oscar winning actress finds herself in Liverpool, as she intends to live out her few remaining days there, alongside younger lover Peter Turner. Based on the memoir by Turner, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a tender retelling of Gloria’s last days as well as her relationship with Peter.

An aspiring actor himself, Peter (Bell) meets Gloria (Bening) in the Primrose Hill house they both reside in. It’s the late 1970’s and Gloria is not the household name she once was – Peter has no idea who she is! The couple connect and begin a heated relationship, throughout which Gloria is highly sensitive about her age and goes ballistic when Peter fails to stroke her ego. As tumultuous as their relationship may or may not be, it’s never fully given the chance to further develop as Gloria is losing her battle with breast cancer. After pushing away Peter, she eventually chooses to spend her last days with him and his family in Liverpool.

Hoping to recover rather than give up the fight, Gloria is a proud woman through and through. As Peter cares for her in his family home, flashbacks of their happier times together are intercut with the present day struggle. Their romance is nicely fleshed out through Peter’s memories, but the chemistry between the couple is a bit lacklustre, and you never truly get a sense of what made them click.

Jamie Bell does a good job as Peter, and Annette is quite the kooky character as Gloria. What is hugely jarring is the way the film uses footage and photos of the actual Gloria Grahame as if it were merely a younger version of Annette. There is no physical resemblance between the two actresses and director McGuigan would have made a more convincing time of it had he merely omitted, or re-shot photos and film scenes with Annette. At its least convincing point, a theatre poster featuring the real older Grahame is on display next to Annette as she is supposed to be playing the actress in this exact run of the play. It feels harshly disjointed visually.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is an interesting adaptation of Gloria Grahame’s last days and last love. As far as an innovative or affecting love story goes, the film doesn’t quite reach those heights. It is a sweet, but forgettable movie.



 

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