Film Review – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a film that came out of nowhere. I had never heard of it, let alone that it was in production until I saw some tweets from some UK accounts about it. Color me surprised when I learned Annette Bening was attached to it. It’s an interesting title for a film, and that makes people want to know more about it.
The film is based on a memoir by Peter Turner. He tells the story of his May-December romance with Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame. In 1979, Peter (played by Jamie Bell) is a young, struggling actor who happens upon an older woman who has moved into the same boarding house. Intrigued by her beauty, confidence, and laissez-faire, he finds her attractive. He eventually finds out that this woman is a famous actress Gloria Grahame (played by Annette Benning). Being past her prime and still trying to pursue a career that is not easy for older women, Gloria latches on to this handsome, young man. They both pursue this unlikely relationship with each other.
The film starts out in the later part of their relationship with each other in 1981. At this point, they are no longer together, but Peter gets a call from Gloria to help her because she is sick. Still living with his parents, Bella (Julie Walters) and Joe (Kenneth Cranham), and his brother Joe, Jr. (Stephen Graham), Peter brings Gloria home to recover. This is the lift-off for the rest of the story, as in how did this young guy from Liverpool end up with this beautiful (albeit older), Hollywood actress.
Opposites attract, or perhaps, Peter and Gloria saw something in each other that they needed. It is a supportive relationship; nothing seems out of the ordinary. Peter is not in it for the money as it appears that Gloria does not have much, but her name and being “famous” is alluring for Peter. The love is there, but there is some news Gloria does not want to share with Peter. This results in Gloria pushing Peter away and the relationship crumbling.
It is odd that Gloria runs to Peter when she becomes deathly ill. She did not want to share her health news with him before, but as she becomes sicker, Peter represents something safe and comforting. With the addition of Bella there to care for her, she thinks she will recover.
This film illustrates something that female actresses are still dealing with today. Not being viewed as a valuable commodity as they age and having to make tough decisions to keep working. To save what career she had left, Gloria elected not to have the proper treatment because she would have lost her hair and thus, not been able to work.
Bening’s portrayal of Gloria is not the expected one. I would have never guessed that Benning would change her voice to meet Gloria’s voice more accurately. Echoing ageism in Hollywood, someone younger could not have pulled off such a romantic and tragic tale. There is no effort to make Bening look her best, but rather reflect what Gloria was like physically. There is no sugar-coating. On the other hand, Bell’s Peter is a story of growing maturity over only a few years. One that starts off as a fling develops into a grown relationship and ends with Peter being the adult. Bell shows this transformation, as his emotions become less free, and more concerned with Gloria’s well-being. The roles become reversed by the end; Peter is the adult and Gloria has become the child needing care.
This is an unconventional love story, one that not many people know about, even though a famous actress of her time is the focus. It has garnered attention for its actors’ portrayals as well as it’s “based on a true story.” It is also depressing to see what being an actress of her time left Gloria Grahame with, and it is not much. It is an untold story that should not be missed. It may not have received the award nominations it should have, but Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool shows what love means and what’s important to these two people. The ending sticks with you, about how tragic and preventable it is, and to see the real-life Gloria Grahame on the screen.