Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

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80%
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Touching

A heart-warming depiction of the love story between Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner, with an amazing performance by Annette Bening, Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool is a celebration of both love and cinema.

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Based on the memoirs of Peter Turner, director Paul McGuigan rewrites the touchingly sad love story of Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and aspiring Liverpudlian actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. Set in the late 70s/early 80s Grahame and Turner’s love affair unfolds when they meet in London, throughout a 3 year period we see their relationship both flourish and perish. After their romance ends Grahame falls seriously ill and looks to Turner for help, throughout we are presented with a series of flashbacks that tell the tale of their relationship.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool was certainly a moving story however the non-linear narrative sometimes distracted from the emotional response that could have potentially won over its audience, it is hard to steal our hearts when we are presented with Turner and Grahame’s relationship after it had come to an end. It would have been far more effective if we saw both the relationship and Grahame’s health deteriorate throughout, rather than be presented with a sense of melancholy from the beginning. However this fault was redeemed due to the superb chemistry between Bening and Bell and their convincing portrayal of this complex relationship. Bening’s performance stood out in particular as she encapsulated Grahame’s persona so compellingly it felt like Gloria Grahame was playing herself, everything from her wistful voice to her body language was spot-on. Bell’s performance was also lovely to watch, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t touched by his character’s charms, anyone would be lucky to have Peter Turner as a love interest.

The heart warming romance is not the only notable quality to take from this film, McGuigan’s addition of dry humour made this film far more desirable. Julie Walters’ performance as Peter’s Mother, Bella, injects a witty and lovable attribute to the film – a necessary characteristic when the narrative tends to pull on your heart strings. This addition also gave Peter’s family more depth and created very likable characters, however more of a focus on Grahame’s relationship with Turner’s family would have definitely made this more of a tear jerker. Bella and Grahame were portrayed to have a deep and loving friendship but this was not represented enough in the story, if it had been I may have had more of a reason to cry which is what the film was marketed to do.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is also a celebration of performance and cinema, McGuigan hints at iconographic traits of cinema throughout the film, particularly when he takes an authentic clip from the 1953 Oscars in which Gloria Grahame wins the award for best supporting actress. This evokes the sheer power and stardom Grahame once had as a successful actress, making her deterioration presented in the film all the more heart-breaking. The film merges past and the present, the old and the new; accentuating the circumstances of Grahame and Turner’s relationship.

The most eye-catching quality of this film was the beautiful cinematography, contrasting the bleak streets of Liverpool in the present day and the dream-like paradise of the past. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool presents us with a creative expression of a love story in time. McGuigan introduces flashbacks profoundly and adds plenty of cinematic spice to this element of the narrative as Turner literally walks through doors to his past. Although some could see this as overly-produced, it is very pleasing to the eye. The aesthetics of every shot were perfectly thought out both interior (i.e. The New York hotel room) and exterior (i.e. The LA beach). Overall this made for a beautiful visual experience, one which I was not expecting.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is a compassionate and heart-warming tale and is worth a watch if you enjoy a love story with a poignant message, however I did not feel it made full use of its emotional potential – there were certainly a few dry eyes in the house.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (2017), directed by Paul McGuigan, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Classics, certificate 15.

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