Written for RAF News November 2017
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is about writer and actor Peter Turner’s love affair with Hollywood legend Gloria Grahame in the late 70s: the star of black and white classics now living in Liverpool and struggling to make it in colour apparently.
Adapted from his memoir, Turner is played by the ever-dashing and loveable Jamie Bell who stumbles upon new neighbour Grahame in the middle of some wacky vocal exercises, but she will make work of him yet. Anette Benning is able to bring the twinkling Hollywood shine to Grahame. She is commanding and funny but the mere mention of the age gap will bring out her sensitivity. Benning is able to portray Grahame as both bold and fragile, hinting that there is something going on behind the film star veneer.
As revealed in the opening of the film, Grahame returns to Liverpool after collapsing in her dressing room, wanting to recover in the company of her old flame. The film jumps about in time from their sweet beginning to tragic ending, back through the throws of passion and heated break-ups. The style is fluid in the way that it blurs past and present but for all its efforts it can be quite jarring. This technique does pay off later though when an argument is seen from a different perspective, effectively managing to change the emotion of the scene.
The getting-to-know-you parts of the relationship, the pub dates and meetings with disapproving parents, feel familiar and forgettable save for the style. Julie Walter’s reliably steals her scenes as Mrs Turner with very little dialogue, but Film Stars really gets interesting when it gets a little darker and dramatic.
Bell and Benning have great chemistry, even when their characters are at odds with each other, and are able to give this story a tenderness that it deserves.