They say that film stars don’t die in Liverpool but this bio-pic of the same name just might. Okay, that’s a bit harsh but the fact is the story is quite a basic one that could have been realised in a much better way. While the performances are top-notch you can’t help but feel like you want something more from this little flick.
The idea of an average Joe meeting a film star is hardly anything new. There has already been Colin Clark’s account as depicted in My Week With Marilyn while those content with fiction need look no further than Notting Hill. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is based on the memoir of its main protagonist, Peter Turner and is adapted for the screen by Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy).
The story goes that Gloria Grahame was a legendary femme fatale. The Oscar-winning actress was a vixen with an insatiable appetite for men. She was married four times and one of her husbands was actually her stepson (does anyone else see some parallels with Woody Allen’s love life? Moving on…) Grahame is famous for appearing in such films as Oklahoma! and It’s A Wonderful Life.
Annette Bening stars here as Grahame and does a stellar job with the material. She captures a real spectrum of emotions including Grahame’s sensuality, vulnerability and sense of tragedy. We learn about Grahame and Turner’s (Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot)) relationship through a series of flashbacks. The pair met at a London boarding house in the late 1970s when the former tinsel town star’s career trajectory was on a downward slide and she was cast in a regional production of The Glass Menagerie.
The pair embark on a passionate on-off romance despite the almost 30 year age gap between them. Bening and Bell share a palpable chemistry, which also means that the audience will be hooked in that respect. The affair is the kind of relationship that isn’t particularly out of the ordinary when you think of an older man with a younger woman but it is a different and welcome change to see the roles reversed here. It’s affirming to see that an older woman can be seen as attractive, fun and complicated even if some aspects of the lead characters lives and motivations are glossed over at times.
Director, Paul McGuigan focuses on Turner’s family and their caring for Grahame. She is succumbing to cancer and the different family members have opposing views on how she should be cared for and see out her final days. It’s especially sad and tragic that Grahame refused treatment because she was worried that the chemotherapy would make her loose her hair and jeopardise her chances at getting new roles.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is an unlikely love story about sacrifice and ties and while it is good to see something challenging the norm, it is ultimately let down by some issues with its execution. Its swift handling of some aspects does this story a disservice, especially when you consider that something a little more nuanced and thoughtful could have been tackled. This story touches on but never properly resolves the issues with respect to power imbalances, consent and duty and that is a shame. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is really a case of unrealised potential, something that is as true of the career of its main protagonist as it is about the film’s second act. It’s just too bad this star doesn’t soar.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool hits cinemas on Thursday, March 1st.