Once a successful screen-siren of the Hollywood Golden Age, Gloria Grahame (Annette Benning) finds herself in the backend of Liverpool attempting a comeback as a stage actress during the early 1980s. There is one catch, however: Gloria is dying and does not have much time left to fulfil her legacy.
And so the story begins. As much as this story is about Gloria, it is also about Peter Turner (whose memoir gives the film its name), a young Liverpudlian attempting to make it as an actor. Played by the enigmatic Jamie Bell, Peter is tossed far from his working-class roots in Liverpool when he finds work in London. Through a series of flashbacks, we meet Gloria a couple of years prior to her diagnosis. Though they don’t seem to be a likely pair, Peter and Gloria soon begin a dramatic love affair which takes them to Los Angeles and New York. The two have an electrifying chemistry which is slightly uncomfortable given their obvious age differences. Nonetheless, Bell and Benning own the screen and prove their prowess as dramatic performers.
Directed by Paul McGuigan, known for his work on the small screen (BBC’s Sherlock), the film soars as a dramatic-love story fit for any audience. You fall in love with its characters, despite Benning’s egotistical flaws and Bell’s shocking naivety. McGuigan’s direction provides an intimate and soft love story with stunning pastel colours and shots of tasteful passion. It’s beautiful, devastating and ever so enthralling all at the same time – a perfect formula for any great romance.
The film is not without its flaws, however. Its reliance on flashbacks and unexplained details left me scratching my head. I wanted to know more. In fact, I needed to know more for things to make sense. Although the story’s simplicity should be commended, sometimes it feels a little rushed and bare. Furthermore, the film’s time-jumps make it somewhat difficult for audiences to follow. This was the film’s biggest flaw for me. I never like to be confused, especially during romantic comedies. If I wanted to be confused, I would have gone to see Murder On The Orient Express playing next door.
Despite its flaws, however, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a touching tale of true love. Bell and Benning shine together as two unexpected lovers trying to find their way at different stages of life. Young, old, whatever you are: see this film and stop worrying about your next birthday because, as Benning proves, age is nothing but a number.
Film reviewed at Cineworld, Edinburgh.
Image: Lionsgate Films