Director Paul McGuigan
Starring Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham and Vanessa Redgrave.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool won’t be for everyone and with good reason. It tells a story about an unconventional romance, which may have been to the detriment of at least one of the participants, and does not end on an upbeat note. That is the story it tells, but it is not what the movie has to say. The movie is about how the place you grow up can define you and your prospects, about how intoxicating being swept out from that can be, and yet how you’re always defined by where you came from.
It also has a lot to say about routine and principals and how they guide your decisions. In the film’s most heartbreaking scene, a father tells his son what they’re going to do and you know the only wisdom he is relying on comes from these types of principles. Neither can be sure that it is the right thing to do but it is the “right” thing to do and so they do it.
In the 1970s young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) is living in an apartment and meets fellow tenant Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). Gloria is an actress too, he learns she is an Academy Award winner but here she is in England, doing theatre and doing it well but her career is not what it used to be. Their seduction scenes have an element of a young man open to a hook up and an older woman completely in charge of manipulating when and how things will happen. Yet Bening and Bell play subsequent scenes as a very real romance played with strong genuine feelings. Ms Grahame was a complicated woman to say the least but the strength of the bond between the two becomes more and more revealed. The relationship also puts a strain on Peter Turner’s family who nonetheless are very accommodating of this May-December romance partly it is implied because of the power of celebrity but perhaps more so because they love their son.
We get to know the Turner family very well, they’re good people who fight and love each other like any real family does. We get to know their home too, the smallness of the rooms, the old furniture well maintained and the simple meals cooked for the sons coming and going. Because we get to know that house very well, we understand what an unusual thing it is to have a movie star in it.
The cast is first rate, the ever dependable Vanessa Redgrave has a great scene but Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham really add so much to the film as parents who understand there comes a point where your kids have to be guided not told. Jamie Bell is strong as Turner who always stays level headed but obviously falls in love with Gloria and wants to take care of her. Annette Bening is proving she is a national treasure every bit as much as Meryl Streep, continuing here a string of challenging and beautiful performances that are reflective of her age in real life.
Little touches don’t go unnoticed, whether it is who helps get somebody into a taxi cab or the packing/unpacking of a make-up bag. Shot on a relatively low budget, back projection is used for scenes later outside of the UK which fits to add a kind of a dream like remembrance of these exotic places to Turner. There’s such wonderful care taken by the filmmakers to make the period setting authentic and to remind us of a world before the internet hell before the VCR when maybe celebrities were a little taller and the world a little larger. Gloria Grahame and Liverpool certainly loom large in this picture and like Peter Turner you will be moved by the memory of them.