Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool sees Annette Bening and Jamie Bell bring to life the unlikely romance between Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner, a young actor from Liverpool.
The film beings in real time as we see Gloria before a performance, silently unpacking her makeup and other self-defining trinkets before falling to the ground in pain. It’s Gloria’s health issues that reunite the now uncoupled pair as Peter cares for her at his family’s home in Liverpool. The rest of the picture unfolds in a series of jumps through time; Gloria’s ‘present day’ decline being interlaced with flashbacks to happier times that give insight into the pair’s initial relationship. Credit must be given to director Paul McGuigan’s neat handling of these time jumps; his slick camera movements convey a sense of triggered memories, minds floating back at every turn.
By all means, the tragic premise of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool should tug at the heartstrings. Bell and Benning deliver nuanced performances amid a screenplay that feels like it’s moving along at snail’s pace, always stating the obvious, often repeating itself. It’s their truthful performances that keep the piece afloat. For almost two hours the film feels like it’s building and building but ultimately (for me at least) fails to pack any sort of significant emotional punch, except perhaps when we see Gloria’s trinkets from the opening scene being packed away. That got me into a melancholic funk, imagine being defined by things that can fit into a tiny box!
Overall, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a bit of a slow burner that features some great performances from Jamie Bell and Annette Benning (… and the always impeccable Julie Walters as Peter’s mother) that do enough to sustain interest for the film’s duration. I give Film Star’s Don’t Die in Liverpool a rating of 3/5.