MARIA DUARTE recommends a heartwarming drama on the doomed love affair between an ageing Hollywood legend and a young actor
Film Stars Don’t Die
in Liverpool (15)
THE COMPLEX romance between Oscar-winning Hollywood star Gloria Grahame and the much younger struggling Liverpudlian actor Peter Turner is brought to life to glorious effect in this film.
Sadly, few will remember Grahame (Annette Bening), who reached the height of her fame during the 1940s and ’50s in films noirs such as In a Lonely Place, in which she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, and The Big Heat with Lee Marvin.
The working-class Turner (Jaime Bell) at the age of 26 had no idea who Grahame was when he met her in 1978 in a guest house in London where they were both lodging. Grahame, who was 55, was a fading star making ends meet by appearing in small theatre productions in Britain. Their landlady duly informed him that she was “a big name in black-and-white films.”
Three years later, Turner received a life-changing call. His former lover was dying. She had collapsed in a Lancaster hotel and wanted to spend time with his family at their council home in Liverpool.
Based on Turner’s memoirs and told from his viewpoint, director Paul McGuigan and writer Matt Greenhalgh’s film delivers a sensitive and captivating non-linear adaptation. The flashbacks, almost dreamlike, are ingenious as characters open a door in the present and enter a past memory in a different time and setting and vice versa. It is seamless but very effective.
In homage to Grahame’s finest works, this is a love story with a film-noir quality. A beach scene in Malibu with the couple is shot using back projection, a device commonly used in many of Grahame’s films noirs.
Bening’s tour-de-force performance is her most nuanced and best to date, Bell is a revelation, and they make this May-December love affair totally believable. Fun, exciting, sexy, passionate, tender and complicated, it was cut short by Grahame’s illness, which Turner was unaware of.
Grahame’s surprising and unlikely close bond to Turner’s family and his mum in particular, played brilliantly by Julie Walters, is never fully explained and her controversial past is touched upon in a priceless scene involving her mother (a spectacular Vanessa Redgrave) and acid-tongued jealous sister (a superb Frances Barber).
It’s a moving film that deals poignantly and powerfully with the issues of a fading star and how women do not stop being sexy, interesting or wanted after they reach 50.
And it’s a wonderful depiction of an intelligent and complex woman with a colourful past who deserves to be remembered for her great body of work.