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Review: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool tells love and tragedy of Hollywood sensation Gloria Grahame

PUBLISHED: 09:34 16 November 2017

Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate Films

Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate Films

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Annette Bening does a magnificent job as the Oscar-winning 1950s Hollywood screen siren who finds romance and happiness with a younger man, but her life changes forever when she is diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s.

Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate FilmsAnnette Bening as Gloria Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate Films

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (15)

****

Liverpool has suffered more than its fair share of ignominies over the years. The title of Paul McGuigan’s drama, based on a true story, uses Liverpool to symbolise the festering abyss all flesh is destined for, that strips away every shred of dignity and achievement.

The film star who shouldn’t suffer this indignity is Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), a screen siren, big Hollywood star and Oscar winner in the 1950s.

In her heyday, she appeared opposite Bogart and lived next to him in a 12 bedroom mansion in the Hollywood Hills. How could it be that by 1981, she was wasting away in Julie Walters’ upstairs bedroom in a Liverpool back to back?

Coincidentially, two of her most famous films, In a Lonely Place, with Bogart, and The Big Heat are being rereleased next week.

Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate FilmsAnnette Bening as Gloria Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool. Photo: Lionsgate Films

In the summer of 1979, jobbing actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and Grahame are neighbours in a London guesthouse. It is more than two decades since Gloria’s halcyon years but Peter is smitten.

The film’s narrative shuttles back and forth around the two years of their relationship. Turner struts into the film like he’s going to be the bad boy, but quickly turns out to be the nice boy from a good family who cares deeply for Grahame.

He follows her to America and meets Gloria’s indomitable mother Jeanne McDougall (Vanessa Redgrave) and jealous older sister Joy (Frances Barber).

Two years later, she returns to the UK for a stage role and collapses in her dressing room. In her hour of need, Gloria calls for Peter and he dutifully takes charge of her recuperation in the home he shares with his father Joe (Kenneth Cranham), mother Bella (Julie Walters) and brother Joe Jnr (Stephen Graham).

If film stars don’t die in Liverpool, surely Mrs Warren Beatty doesn’t appear in British movies that don’t have two pennies to rub together. Well, it is hard for women of a certain age who aren’t Meryl Streep to get good roles. So, like Gloria Grahame, she is going where the work is, and she does a magnificent job of it.

The film is brave enough to show footage of the real Grahame in the 50s and you can absolutely believe that she could grow into the Bening we see on the screen.

There’s not much in the way of drama in the film, but it isn’t missed. All it has to offer is a touching expression of the simple poignancy of growing old and dying, and the knowledge that not even an Oscar win can spare you from it.

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