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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – Review


Release Date: 16 November 2017
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh [Screenplay] - Peter Turner [Memoir]
Cast: Jamie Bell - Annette Bening - Julie Walters



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Posted December 12, 2017 by

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool Review:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is one of those quiet films that sucks you into its world. There isn’t an epic story here, nor a huge cast of characters. This is a film about people and the things they do for love.

Based on the memoirs of Peter Turner, Film Stars… shares the touching and tragic love story between Turner (Jamie Bell) and Oscar-winning actor Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). Grahame, her health waning, asks Turner to let her recuperate in his home in Liverpool. While there, Turner recalls their time together.

Via flashbacks, we see how aspiring actor Turner and the already-established Grahame met in 1979 when they happened to be living in the same accommodation while performing in separate theatrical productions.

The pair hit it off over drinks and dancing and soon Turner found himself flying out to California to stay with Grahame. Their relationship seemed to be going from strength to strength till it inexplicably fell apart, forcing Turner to return home to Liverpool.

Back in the present, Turner’s family try their best to nurse Grahame back to health but they can only do so much when she isn’t telling them the whole truth.

Film Stars… is a boy-meets-girl romance with a twist – Turner is some 25 years younger than Grahame. It is rare to see such a couple on screen (the reverse is almost a norm) and it works because of the chemistry between Bening and Bell.

film stars dont die in liverpool Jamie Bell

This film is easily Bell’s best work since Billy Elliot. As the protagonist, he gets to stretch his acting wings. His Peter Turner is lively, vivacious, in love and heartbroken. He goes through the gamut of emotions and ably handles being the lead. The film depends on his charismatic screen presence, particularly during the final scenes, and he delivers in spades.

Bening’s role is not as large as I had expected but, she excels throughout. She completely disappears into the role of Grahame, the vain, flighty, tragic actor who is yet to accept that her career is on the wane. Bening even alters her speaking style to match Grahame’s higher pitch and melodious speech pattern.

However, Bening’s strength is that she plays Grahame as a woman with a complete history. The audience are only privy to some aspects of her life but Bening brings out little details from time to time, tell-tale signs that she knows more than we do. It’s great to have a fleshed-out female character who is not just a manic pixie dream girl. I just wish she had had more screen time.

Film Stars dont die in Liverpool Annette Benning

As central as the romance is to the story, I still felt like it needed to be built up more. Grahame and Turner’s first kiss, which takes place during a heated argument, seems to come out of nowhere. Thanks to the flashbacks and flash-forwards, we know that the two were together for two years, but it still doesn’t quite explain why Turner and Grahame are so taken with each other, especially in what seems to be a short span of time.

I would say the flashback route did not work for this film. It would have been much better to stick to a linear narrative, beginning with Grahame and Turner’s meeting, their subsequent romance, their time in the USA, the breakup and reconnection back in Liverpool. By using the flashbacks, it gives the story away a bit and spoils one of the more powerful scenes near the end of the film.

On the whole, the direction by Paul McGuigan left much to be desired. Aside from the ineffectual use of flashbacks, even the methods McGuigan used to transition to the past looked archaic and heavy-handed. Plus, a number of the camera angles and pans were jarring to the point of making the audience dizzy.

I also felt, while watching the film, that there was some substance missing. It looks more like a combination of romantic moments rather than one long romance. After all, this relationship lasted nearly two years but the film gives us only a fleeting glimpse of it. The majority of the romance is shown through physical intimacy, but what truly makes these two people connect is still lost to the audience. Again, a linear narrative might have remedied this issue.

More than anything else, it is the location shots that are most out of sync. The entire film was shot in England but significant parts of the story take place in California and New York. Whether for budget or stylistic reasons, the USA scenes were shot via green screen and, unfortunately, this is painfully obvious for all to see. It immediately took me out of the film.

There do seem to be a fair few negatives about this film but one doesn’t even realise them until after leaving the theatre. The performances are so strong and engaging, not just by Bening and Bell, but also by Julie Walters, who plays Turner’s mother, that you can’t help but want to spend more time with the characters.

Whatever its flaws, Film Stars… is a beautiful, emotional rollercoaster. The theatre resounded with sniffles near the end of the film and most stayed during the credits to recover. This is a film that will make you smile and ugly-cry and you will love every single moment of it.


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Louis Skye
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