If you have ever seen It’s A Wonderful Life, then you have seen and are familiar with Gloria Grahame. Grahame was the femme fatale in many a classic Hollywood Film Noir who always played the chick from the wrong side of the tracks. Think of her as the unpolished, white trash version of Marilyn Monroe.
It was 1978, Peter Turner was a 26-year-old English actor living a Primrose Hill boarding house. Gloria Grahame lived downstairs and was nearly 30 years his senior, an Oscar-winner who had counted Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart among her leading men. When movie roles dried up, she came to England to perform in theatrical plays. She and turned became romantically linked for two years. Two years that gave him the love of his life.
Directed by Paul McGuigan and based on the memoir by Peter Turner, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool chronicles the last few months of Grahame’s eccentric lifestyle though the lens of Turner and his family as they cared for her during her dying days.
Annette Bening flies under the radar being one the most underrated, spectacular actresses of our time. She is often much more stellar than the films in which she stars. This one is no exception. She tackles every role with a fervor an intimacy unique only unto her. As Gloria Grahame, she makes the audience empathize with this woman who has searched her whole life for adoration. Whether that attention came from men or her family…it never seemed to be quite enough to wet her appetite to have sustained a satisfying life as a movie star or as a woman.
Jamie Bell as Peter Turner is quite captivating. Bell, also has the unique ability to give humanity and depth to a character who could very easily become one-dimensional. His relationship with Grahame is layered, complicated and intense. Nevertheless, you feel nothing but empathy for what he has voluntarily signed up for.
The most intriguing part of this film is that a McGuigan made the conscious choice to intersperse footage of the real Gloria Grahame throughout, as opposed to recreating those events using Bening. Very smart move. It allows one to see just how fully wonderful Bening has captured her essence. Kind of like when you see footage of Tina Turner at the end of What’s Love Got To Do With It and you realize that the actress is spot on with her characterization of this real life. powerful persona.
It’s shot beautifully and the passage of time is tastefully done in a Damien Chazelle ala Whiplash/LaLa Land sort of manner.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool opens select cities now and full release on December 15th.