As a favor to your film – fan self, you can make a choice before viewing the biopic “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” You can read all about the classic movie actress Gloria Grahame (“The Bad and the Beautiful”); newspaper articles, gossip magazines, books, etc. OR just view the film knowing that this is based on a small portion in the life of a real film actress and let yourself enjoy the story as it is, with excellent performances. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I did not research her life completely prior to viewing the film and I am almost glad I didn’t.
The outstanding performance by four time Academy Award nominated actress Annette Bening (“Rules Don’t Apply,” “20th Century Women,” “The Grifters”) as Gloria Grahame captures your attention from the onset and as the story weaves from the early 80s back to her life in younger days. Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot,”“Fantastic Four,” “Snowpiercer”) is an excellent Peter Turner, Grahame’s young lover in London and who she turns to as she faces her end of life. Bell demonstrates the emotional highs and lows with his “Glo” as he affectionately calls her, but does not over do the role as it is written, leaving the focus on the aging film star. Bell is nominated for a BAFTA Film Award as Best Leading Actor in this feature film.
Paul McGuigan [“Victor Frankenstein,” “Lucky Number Slevin”] directs the film from the screenplay written by Matt Greenhalgh (“The Look of Love,” “Nowhere Boy”) based on the memoir of the same name by Peter Turner. Although I have not read the source material by Turner, overall I do think the screenplay is well done, with the exception of what I would have liked to have seen more of. Perhaps Turner’s book does not expand as much on Grahame’s childhood with her mother/sister or the screenwriter elected not to expand on this relationship, but the film has a little time dedicated to it. Grahame has Peter join her in California, and subsequently meet her mother, Jeanne McDougall (Vanessa Redgrave) and sister, Joy (Frances Barber). While it is a dramatic and interesting scene, I cannot help but want to view more scenes with the three dynamic women and learn more about what led to Gloria living the life she did as a Hollywood sex symbol, with multiple marriages, including one with a former step – son. (The latter seems to have plenty of similarities to characters in today’s daytime soap operas where they marry, divorce, marry another person in the family, etc.)
The cinematographer, Urszula Pontikos, excels in capturing some truly fabulous scenes between the two starring leads, whether it is the two dancing early in the film, as lovers, or as they say goodbye. It is truly a reason to weep along with the cast of characters who loved her including Peter’s parents (played by Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) – not only as fans – but more like family at the time in 1981 when cancer took the life of this Oscar winner.
This film was screened at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and is rated R. the film opens in Austin theaters on February 2nd.
By Liz Lopez
Source: Sony Pictures Classics