Website last updated: 26-2-2024

Gloria Days: Review of the Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool film

By: Ajay Chowdhury
Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool recension
Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017) is the true story of a May-to-December romance between ageing Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner, Gloria Graham and a young, British actor, Peter Turner. Starring Annette Bening as Grahame and Jamie Bell as Turner, based on the latter's eponymous memoir, the film is bittersweet observation about love, identity and rebirth in one's latter years: sort of Sunset Boulevard meets Billy Elliott.

Spanning the latter part of Grahame's years when she was in reparatory theatre in the UK, the film sees Turner, a wide-eyed ingénue meet Grahame, oblivious to her starry Hollywood past. The film begins when Grahame re-enters Turner's life and through a series of flashbacks explores their love affair from London to Los Angeles to New York, her somewhat unconventional back-story and the juxtaposition of Turner's ordinary Liverpudlian family looking after the ailing star. Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham play Bella and Joe Turner, Peter's parents, while Stephen Graham is Peter's brother; Joe Jnr. Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber play Gloria's mother, Jeanne McDougall and sister, Joy Hallward in an amusing cameo. We discover Gloria through Peter's eyes in a newly Thatcherite Britain sound tracked by Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" and entreaties to socialism set against the more esoteric world of theatre and art and the golden age of Hollywood. Gloria, masking layers of anguish and uncertainty, is a confusing puzzle for Peter but he takes her at face value. Their romance is tender and touching and the film celebrates second acts and second chances as well as reinventing oneself and what our own identity really means.

A film like this turns on the central performances and Annette Bening is a tour de force. A brave, bravura turn surely must make Bening's complex and careful characterisation an awards contender. She is matched by Jamie Bell in his most accomplished role to date which does draw upon his Billy Elliot background (Julie Walter's casting does this too) but also shows how far the actor has come in the intervening years. This is ultimately a small intimate film and the two actors shine.

Paul McGuigan directs with careful attention to not only period but personal detail. His stylised versions of California and New York aided by great photography by Urzula Pontikos is a clever way of showing the world from Peter's point of view. Costumes by Eve Steward aid the authenticity of the period. Matt Greenhalgh's screenplay adaptation of Turner's 2016 memoir is satisfying, savvy and smart, poignant and moving without being overly sentimental. There are some great one-liners and images and Greenhalgh's structure, assisted by Nick Emerson, acerbically contrasts the golden age of Hollywood with the griminess of early eighties Great Britain. J. Ralph's score is effective and evocative and is laced with parts of Elvis Costello's end title song, "You Shouldn't Look At Me That Way". Indeed, Costello's song is hugely successful, an instant standard and exquisitely capturing new love from Gloria's point of view. His rendition might garner even more awards recognition.

The film was the pet project of Bond producer Barbara Broccoli who knew Grahame and Turner when they were together and has persevered with the project for decades. Together her long time non-Bond co-producer, Amanda Schiff, and Colin Vaines, who originated the project, Broccoli has shown another side to her skills and this small scale film is gathering critical momentum. Michael G. Wilson is listed as an executive producer and indeed this third non-Bond Eon Productions production lists a number of 007 alumni in the credits including costume designer, Jany Temine, casting director Debbie McWilliams, make-up Naomi Donne as well as a host of others including Callum McDougall, Andrew Noble and Steve Begg. As we wait for Bond 25, it can only be helpful that the artistic and creative palette of Eon Productions is sharpened and sweetened by a film as accomplished and acclaimed as Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

Editor's Note: Except where noted all text. Copyright © 2017 Ajay Chowdhury. All rights reserved.

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