Cinematic Releases: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017) - Reviewed

I'm ashamed to admit that upon entering the theater to see Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, I knew next to nothing about Gloria Grahame. This biopic about her love affair with actor Peter Turner, based on the book by the same name and written by him, was my first real exposure to the actress. To me she was just one of a myriad of film stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, when the industry was more akin to an assembly line, churning out motion pictures like hotcakes. Not to detract from her value as an actress, what I mean is the industry's volume during this period can make learning the details of each of its individual actors feel like a daunting task. 

What information I have found about Gloria Grahame since, is limited to a handful of sensationalized exposé documentaries, as she almost never gave interviews. Hyper edited for maximum scandal-addict pleasure, these documentaries pigeonhole the actress into the repeated stereotype of “tart with a heart”, arguing that the actress' repeated typecast, onscreen persona of femme fatal wasn't that far removed from the real Gloria. However, Peter Turner's book-turned-movie Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool shows Grahame to be a sensitive and funny woman who took her work seriously. 

The film begins in the Liverpool of 1981, with Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) readying for a stage show, when she collapses in pain. After a visit to the hospital, she ends up in the family home of her now estranged lover Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and pleads with him to stay as she recuperates. Jamie Bell’s emotional performance of Peter Turner as he revisits the memories of their relationship, while she is in his care, is powerful and heart wrenching. And it is through his eyes that the audience gets to see Gloria’s humanity. 

In a recent interview with Tom Power of CBC Radio, the real Peter Turner described his choice to write Film Stars as an homage and farewell to the love of his life. Initially, he turned down a few producers’ offer to buy the film rights sighting his concern for how Gloria would be played. Turner states that because Gloria refused to give interviews, much of what has been written about her is inaccurate, as the big gossip columnists of her day were notorious for creating content where there was none. He feared these inaccuracies would end up on the big screen. 

When asked if he thinks Gloria Grahame would be pleased with Annette Bening’s portrayal of her, he responds with “Absolutely! I think that she would be honored.” He goes on to describe Bening’s interest in learning about and respecting the woman Gloria Grahame and not the actress Gloria Grahame. This approach to the role pays off in the film, as Annette Bening’s performance is electric, and as a member of the audience it’s hard not to be drawn into the character.

Overall, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a charming film. This charm only being possible because of Gloria Grahame’s real life sweet and unique personality which is captures so perfectly by Annette Benning and Director Paul McGuigan. However, it is because of Peter Turner, and his love for Gloria, that the world is finally able to gain a glimpse at her uniqueness, and the real human being behind the film star. 

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-Dawn Stronski