‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ finds love and compassion triumphing
Films seldom candidly portray the last days of once glamorous, sultry actresses. Admirers prefer to revisit their triumphant performances in which these women command screens with captivating energy and irresistible appeal. Kudos then to "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," an exception that dramatizes the physical and psychological challenges faced by 1950s Hollywood star Gloria Grahame in her final months.
Matt Greenhalgh's adaptation of Peter Turner's 1986 memoir of the film's title foregrounds the profound, deeply moving connection between Grahame and Turner, lovers in an earlier relationship. Now, in 1978, battling cancer, refusing medical treatments, Grahame reached out again to Turner for comfort.
Director Paul McGuigan, whose television "Sherlock" series has earned praise, approaches Grahame's and Turner's personas with admirable frankness. Independent and yet vulnerable, Grahame championed women's issues and gay rights while needing reliable emotional support herself. She found it in Turner and his family in Liverpool as Gloria struggled to maintain a career in theater as her health failed. She was only 57 years old when she died in 1981.
Above all, the chemistry between the marvelous Annette Bening as Grahame and the likable Jamie Bell as Turner makes the intimacy believable and touching. Bening, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Grahame, gives a stunning, mature performance as the famous actress who won an Academy Award for the 1952 "The Bad and the Beautiful," that title an apt description for Grahame's film noir roles, my favorite "The Big Heat." This fits Bening as well, especially for "The Grifters." Bening and Bell have one magical scene when they meet and dance in Grahame's room, a reminder of the talent Bell showed as the boy in "Billy Elliott."
He reunites here with Julie Walters, always superb, Turner's mother Bella, and there's Vanessa Redgrave in too brief an appearance. Above all, "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" pits the glamorous Hollywood world versus working class values. Well-chosen songs reinforce the milieu in a tale of love and compassion triumphing. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.