Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool  (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Paul McGuigan, UK, 2017, 106 mins

Cast:  Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham.

Review by Carol Allen

 In the late 70s Oscar winning Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame had fallen from favour.  Now in her mid fifties but still optimistic, she was scraping a living wherever she could, frequently in regional theatre in the UK. 

There she met struggling young actor Peter Turner.  They fell in love, then later split up.  But in 1981 Turner received a phone call from Gloria.  She had been taken ill in Lancaster.  Could she come and stay with him and his family in Liverpool while she recovered?

The film is based on Turner’s memoir, which was written a few years after Gloria’s death from cancer, and which producer Barbara Broccoli, who knew Gloria and Peter at that time, has been wanting to bring to the screen for over twenty years, at a time when Annette Bening would have been too young to play the role.  It was worth the wait.

Bening, who is tipped to win her own Oscar for this role, is perfect casting.  As Gloria in the early days of her romance with Peter, she is mischievous, impish and still youthfully sexy, yet she does not flinch from the harsh close ups showing every line and sag of suffering, as in the opening scenes, showing Gloria making up in her provincial theatre dressing room to go on stage as Amanda in the play “The Glass Menagerie”, before she collapses and then makes that phone call.   Bell as Peter matches her beautifully and is totally convincing as her young lover.  There two of them have created a wonderful sense of ease and relaxation in their on screen relationship, making its resolution all the more poignant.

They first meet in a scruffy actors’ digs boarding house in Primrose Hill, when Gloria recruits Peter to help her rehearse a disco dancing routine.  It’s a deliciously original seduction and both Bening and the former Billy Elliot are no mean dancers.

The leads are well supported by Cranham and Walters as Peter’s parents, who take in their guest without question and Stephen Graham as his brother.  There’s a funny yet touching scene, where Cranham remembers him and his wife going to the pictures to see Gloria’s films, never dreaming one day they would be welcoming her into their home.  There’s also an effective duet of cameo appearances from Vanessa Redgrave and Frances White as Gloria’s concerned mother and bitchy sister.

Paul McGuigan directs with sensitivity and imagination. keeping a perfect balance between humour, romance and tragedy.  There is one particularly effective directorial flourish, where he plays the same scene between the lovers twice, once from Peter’s point of view, then later again from Gloria’s, giving us a whole different perspective on what is going on.

This is a moving, loving and very human film.  I defy the most hard hearted of viewers not to be charmed by it.