I must admit I was wary of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool before I even knew anything about it and, rather oddly I confess, that came down to the title. However, and not for the first time, I’ve never been more wrong about something so trivial and also I was utterly overwhelmed with the craft, the delicate nature of the film and outstanding turns from leads Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, the latter who gives the performance of his career. To declare further unacquainted knowledge, I didn’t know of the story behind the film and that it’s all based on Peter Turner’s memoirs, which was a very unique relationship and that made it even more fascinating as the credits rolled.
Set in the 70s and early 80s, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is based on the real-life romance of young Liverpool actor Turner (portrayed here by Jamie Bell), and 1950s movie star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) who become involved in a fun and passionate relationship after meeting in Liverpool and falling for each other over shared desires. Director Paul McGuigan creates a beautifully shot movie that also blends a balanced palette of colours to effortlessly draw you into the romance. Over time, we’re taken on a journey through the sunshine of LA to the rainy streets of late 70s Liverpool and with the romanticised edge, you trust in every moment.
But it isn’t just a story about love and happiness, it’s also about who you let into your life, how much you confide in someone and how it feels when it’s the right choice. Replayed in flashback after Gloria and Peter meet again in Liverpool in 1981, it delves back through their relationship to get us to a point of a life-altering moment where the film begins. Without giving too much away, if you don’t know the story, patience and commitment are pushed to the limits as they both deal with the possibilities of success, and the fading reality of time. Whilst that might sound vague, Bening and Bell create a believable scenario with superb chemistry from the off.
In fact, this film is all about the atmosphere created by the small cast that also includes the always excellent Julie Walters as Peter’s mother Bella Turner (reuniting 17 years (!) after Billy Elliot) plus Kenneth Cranham as his dad Joe, and Stephen Graham as his brother Joe Jr. Everyone has their little moments and Annette Bening is again fantastic but it’s Jamie Bell who gives the performance of his life as Peter. He exudes in both power and vulnerability, commanding the screen when he’s giving everything of himself to Gloria but also full of feeling and raw emotion as things change.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a gratifyingly made, fine-looking film with a true romantic heart and whilst it is full of hope, it’s never far from the truth and reality of time and that foundation of authenticity is what makes it all work very impressively.