THREE AND A HALF STARS A Hollywood leading lady seeks out the company of her former, younger, lover.
Annette Benning, Jamie Bell
PERIOD DRAMA #FILMSTARSDONTDIEINLIVERPOOL
It’s the early 1980’s and Hollywood screen siren Gloria Grahame (Annette Benning) has come to spend her final days in, of all places, Liverpool England. This is not Liverpool of The Beatles, this is Liverpool of run down bedsits on rundown roads in rundown neighbourhoods. But it’s where Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) lives with his Mum and Dad (Julie Walter and Kenneth Cranham) and the closest Gloria has to family. For she and the much younger Peter were once lovers and in these trying times, his is the most reliable shoulder she has to rest on.
FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL is an endearing character study that gives the gifted Benning (AMERICAN BEAUTY) room to shine, and so she does. Hers is a bravura performance, though Bell is no slouch, not only holding is own but also knowing when to let his leading lady take centre stage. Together they create a compelling couple in three parts: serenely falling in love, spectacularly falling out of love and then learning to love again.
Here death is no laughing matter (although Walters offers her usual, raffish charm to help lighten the load), as the former lovers are forced to embrace the inevitable. Working from a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh (CONTROL), Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) creates a invitingly stylised environment in which a very conventional story is told. It’s a delightful juxtaposition which heightens the emotion and, counter intuitively, the film’s honesty.
Yet for all the death and sadness, there is a thick vein of humour running through the pair’s relationship. “Has anyone told you that you like Lauren Bacall when you smoke?” asks Peter. “Humphry Bogart,” Gloria retorts “and I didn’t like it then either!” That said, not all elements ring entirely true (despite this being a true story) and some of the action does become repetitive, yet when the film is firing, which is most of the time, it’s a joy to watch. The chemistry between Bell and Benning especially so, with the latter utterly convincing as a woman bravely facing the ultimate curtain call - albeit one she’s not quite ready to face. It’s sad, poignant, heart-warming affirmation of life and death.