Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Paul McGuigan
  • Cast: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Vanessa Redgrave


Real life proves just as dramatic off-screen as it does on it for these two actors, the aging Hollywood superstar Gloria Grahame and her younger lover, Peter Turner. As their mismatched romance waxes and wanes over time, events conspire to keep them in each other’s lives even when it proves difficult and demanding. Ultimately, they find that they must each come to terms with whatever fate they face in the future whether they are together or apart.


  • “She was a big name in black-and-white films, not so much in colour,” says one character of Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, adapted from actor and writer Peter Turner’s memoir of his time with the Oscar-winning actress.

    Indeed, by the time the 28-year-old Turner met Grahame, she was twice his age and well past her prime. An iconic femme fatale figure in films such as In a Lonely Place, directed by her then-husband Nicholas Ray, and Human Desire and The Big Heat, both helmed by Fritz Lang. The arrival of Technicolor exacerbated her obsession with her looks – Grahame not only had several cosmetic surgeries but was known to stuff cotton or tissue between her lip and teeth to achieve her signature sultry pout – and her reputation for being increasingly difficult to work with, along with her scandalous personal life (her fourth husband was Anthony Ray, her former stepson; it was rumoured that Nicholas Ray had discovered Grahame in bed with his son, who was then thirteen) contributed to her waning popularity.

    For Turner, Grahame was the flirty older woman next door who used to be a star but was now trying to get herself back in the game by treading the boards in England. The film moves back and forth between 1979 and 1981, juxtaposing the steamy passion of their incipient romance with the more melancholy later stages when an ailing Grahame asks Turner to let her spend her final days in Liverpool being cared for by his family, specifically his mother Bella (Julie Walters). Director Paul McGuigan pulls off clever transitional scenes with the help of cinematographer Urszula Pontikos and editor Nick Emerson, utilising long hallways and open doors to slip from present to past and back again. There’s a deliberate superficiality to the proceedings, as if the whole film was a literal projection of Turner’s memories, one that he could rewind and fast-forward at will.

    Affectionate though this film may be towards its subjects, one never fully grasps who Grahame and Turner are or why and how they were attracted to one another. There’s a certain one-dimensionality to the characters that almost makes them stock. That said, Annette Bening as Grahame and Jamie Bell as Turner deliver excellent performances, truly selling the romance as well as embodying their characters’ conflicts during that specific period of time. Bell may have the least showy role of the two, but he’s tremendously affecting. Bening is nothing less than luminous; in a way, her portrayal is a more vulnerable variation of the minxish tart she played in The Grifters, a role which would have been perfect for Grahame had it been made during her heyday.

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  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B


    JIM’S REVIEW: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool tells the final days of Oscar winning actress Gloria Grahame and her rapid career and health decline. Her fall from grace is sad but fascinating: her bouts with alcoholism and cancer, abusive behavior on the set, failed plastic surgery, an affair with a younger man, and a third marriage to her stepson…some of which is strongly depicted, other merely suggested. However any omissions in her life story are nicely added by a tremendous performance by Annette Bening as the doomed actress. She is riveting.

    Ms. Bening brings a sophistication and vulnerability to this dramatic role, one that fully deserved an Oscar nomination. Her youthful love interest is Peter Turner, well played by Jamie Bell, and they have a wonderful chemistry between them. One believes in their initial attraction and their subsequent mercurial relationship.

    The film focuses on Ms. Graham’s last three years in England when she was forced into a stage career as the film industry offers dried up. Matt Greenhalgh’s script has many touching moments (a stage rehearsal scene between the leads is very memorable) but the  film’s narrative structure is so non-linear and jumps too haphazardly from past to present that it tends to occasionally confuse. Some time lapse transitions are very effectively done; others are too artsy and forced. Most of the supporting roles of Peter’s family members needed more definition as their actions seem unjust, erratic, or cruel at times. Yet Paul McGuigan’s direction remains consistently strong and he sensitively handled the aspects of this May-December love story.

    Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a fine biography that should be seen by any filmgoer interested in serious drama. The film deserved a better life, much like Ms. Graham herself.

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