It’s been said that the trick to a successful biopic focusing on a public figure’s life is to avoid the cradle to grave approach and only focus on a specific event in the person’s life. That’s just the approach taken in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a dramatization of the last few years in the life of acclaimed actress Gloria Grahame. Admittedly, it’s a film that could have benefitted by more clearly articulating who Grahame was in both her career and life, prior to the events of the film. Having said that is still important to note that the lead performance by Annette Bening as Grahame is enough to forgive the film of that and other transgressions.
A good chunk of the film’s story is related in flashbacks, which works well enough for the tale being told. The opening scene, set in the year of 1981, establishes that Grahame has fallen far from her heady days as an acclaimed actress when she appeared in such film noir classics as The Big Heat and In a Lonely Place before seeing her career take a nosedive after marrying her stepson. She’s residing in Liverpool in the film’s opening scenes and forced to take whatever work she can get to make ends meet. A chance encounter between Grahame and a former lover from two years prior, up and coming actor Peter Turner (whose memoir serves as the basis for the film), leads to a rekindling of their relationship. When Turner discovers that Grahame is, in fact, in the advanced stages of breast cancer and refusing treatment, his role shifts from being her former lover to becoming her caregiver. He takes her in and does his best to make her remaining time as comfortable as possible. The film toggles back and forth between their romance and breakup and her final days.
Bening turns in some stellar work, but Jamie Bell’s performance in the role of Turner is equally memorable. Bell brings a tenderness and humanity to the proceedings as a man dealing with the specter of impending loss and feeling helpless in his efforts to deal with it. The two actors exhibit a palpable chemistry that helps the movie gets past its more conventional aspects. It’s worth seeing for their work if for nothing else.
At press time, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is not playing in this area yet.
Image: Jamie Bell & Annette Bening in ‘Film Stars Don’t Die…’
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