Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool: “a spark of brilliance for an otherwise tired genre”
Based on the memoir of actor and writer Peter Turner (played by Jamie Bell), Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool tells the story of his movie romance with Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). It’s the kind of love story you’d only expect to exist in the confines of a cinema screen: despite their age differences, the pair fell for one another during their times residing in the same house. However, sometime after their relationship ends, Turner is surprised to get a phone call informing him that Gloria has taken ill and is adamant on staying with Peter and his family in Liverpool, where she is convinced she can get better.
This is an industry that is obsessed with glamorous, tearjerker romances – probably as much as it’s obsessed with heroes in spandex and over-the-top CGI third-act shit-fests. But, every so often, a film comes along that takes a genre and gives it a vigorous shaking: for romance, this is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. What makes this film so special, apart from the fact it is grounded in reality (and made all the more bittersweet as a result), is just how genuine and heartfelt it is. The authenticity is palpable: these characters are flawed and relatable; they, along with the world and relationship the film so tenderly crafts, are never idealised or watered down, and the authenticity permeating the proceedings is crafted with a deft and believable edge. It feels real, and almost as if we aren’t watching a film, but rather peering into the lives of real people.
The relationship between Grahame and Turner is one that feels so genuine: it’s pacing proving deliberate and meticulous, setting up its story and really letting us soak in it, falling in love as these characters do. Of course, two powerhouse performances from a never-better Jamie Bell and always-charismatic Annette Bening serve to anchor this screenplay further. Their chemistry is electric and convincing, and the pair bounce off one another with such magnetic sincerity and charm. But it’s not all happiness for the couple, and for the audience even, because Film Stars brings the emotion towards the middle act. And it hits like a sledgehammer, until you’re left a teary-eyed puddle of emotion. It’s perhaps a testament to Matt Greenhalgh’s mesmerising writing and director Paul McGuigan’s firm handle on character, that this film is able to resonate with us so deeply and emotionally. It certainly takes a while getting there, perhaps meandering unnecessarily every so often; but when it picks up, it really works, and makes for such emotionally exciting and compelling viewing. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a knockout, and a spark of brilliance for an otherwise tired genre.