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Wednesday, March 28, 2018


(Annette Bening & Jamie Bell)

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are sensational in this unusual romantic drama. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8/10)

This is a strange tale, hardly believable except that it is true, being based on a memoir written by an unknown Liverpudlian actor, Peter Turner, about an affair he had with a former Hollywood film star, Gloria Grahame, who was twice his age.

Grahame was one of the goddesses of film noir in the late 40s and early 50s who memorably starred with Humphrey Bogart in Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. Ray was one of four husbands and she made no secret that she was attracted to much younger men. Grahame also won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and also got star notices for her performance in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat.

This movie, however, is not about Grahame’s career, much less her time as a Hollywood actress. Set during the last three years of her life (1979-81), it’s essentially about her end-game, when she has an affair with an unknown young English actor while she is treading the boards in England, her previous career in the movies all but forgotten.

Annette Bening is the big reason to see this film. The actress, who wanted to play Grahame for many years, brings her complex character passionately to life. Although much older than her lover Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), the sexual chemistry between Bening and Bell positively sizzles, right from the electrifying moment they meet in a London boarding house and dance the Boogie Oogie Oogie together.

The film is at its vibrant best in the opening half when the couple enjoy their love affair and explore each other’s lives, but the tone grows darker as Grahame falls ill.

Glasgow director Paul McGuigan has collected a wonderful cast who come together to produce superb work, individually and collectively. Bening is the biggest star in his firmament and she conveys not only the joy but also the pain of a life passionately but not always wisely lived. Her Romeo and Juliet scene with Turner at a deserted theatre in Liverpool is intensely moving as the film moves towards its grim climax.

Bell (formerly the child star in Billy Elliot) has a more straightforward role but he powerfully conveys the young man’s devotion, bewilderment and love.

His family in Liverpool are represented by Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham who give memorable cameos as Peter’s mom and dad, while Grahame’s mother and bitchy sister are well played by Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber.

McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh have also structured the film in a particularly interesting manner, moving the action seamlessly backwards and forwards in time and from place to place, using a series of clever, quasi-theatrical editing devices.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool opened at Gateway on March 23. – Patrick Compton