Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Filed in Film by on January 23, 2018 0 Comments

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame is a figure from the past, an almost forgotten Hollywood star who won the Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1953 for her fleeting seven-minute appearance in The Bad and the Beautiful. A femme fatale, she made her film debut in Blonde Fever in 1944 and went on to appear in such movies as It’s a Wonderful Life and Crossfire.

Gloria Grahame’s first film

In Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which opens in Canadian theaters on January 26, Grahame (Annette Bening) is seen in the final two years of her tempestuous life. It was a time when her career was little more than a glint in her eyes, and her health was on a downward spiral.

The film unfolds in Liverpool, Los Angeles and New York City between 1979 to 1981 and focuses on her fling/romance with Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), her much younger British lover. Grahame comes across as a sensualist who had a thing for toy boys. Indeed, one of her four husbands was the son of her second spouse. The scandal arising from this marriage was a contributory factor in her banishment from Tinseltown, but this salacious chapter is mentioned only in passing in the film.

A sultry and temperamental woman who had difficulty coping with aging, she met Turner in 1979, when he was 28. He was then a struggling actor who worked part-time in a second-hand furniture store and lived next door to Grahame in a crumbling apartment building.

Looking for an affair before she succumbed to what would be a fatal illness, Grahame seduced Turner following one of her typical outbursts. Their carnal relationship eventually turned serious, but never reached the matrimonial stage.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell

In the opening scene, Grahame, looking worse for wear, applies makeup and a wig before she collapses on the floor in a moaning heap. Desperately ill by now, she moves in with Peter’s parents, a quarrelling couple who have a soft spot for her. Still very fond of Grahame, Turner tenderly burps her and serves her a glass of milk. “You know I love milk,” she says cooingly.

Then, in a flashback to 1979, Turner visits Grahame in California, which is photographed as a sun-drenched, care-free paradise. She lives in a glorified trailer by the sea in Los Angeles, and Turner is enchanted by the exquisite view from the beach.

Turner, in 1981, learns she has an incurable disease. He urges her to check into a hospital to seek treatment, but she resists, being convinced she’ll get better. The movie shifts to New York, where Grahame worries about growing old, and where she and Turner argue.

Finally, Grahame realizes she has been cavalier about her ailment. She consults a doctor and submits to medical tests, but by that point she’s beyond help. It’s “too late,” a doctor says grimly, delivering the bad news.

An unusual romance

McGuigan is fortunate to have snagged Bening for this demanding role. She’s about as old as Grahame was in 1981, and she’s playful and sensuous in portraying a hedonist. Bell is fine as her sensitive, doting boyfriend. Julie Walter strikes a fine balance between hardness and kindness as Turner’s mother.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool could easily have been sensationalist and superficial. Instead, it reaches for substance and expertly charts the decline of a vivacious entertainer who lived life to the fullest.





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