Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.
Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

MOVIE REVIEW: Shaky look at a scandalous life

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (M)

***

Director: Paul McGuigan

Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters

Verdict: Bening shines

 

GLORIA Grahame scandalously married her stepson (the Hollywood actress's marriage to director Nicholas Ray reportedly fell apart when he surprised the two of them in bed).

She underwent electroshock therapy after a nervous breakdown caused by the stress of a custody battle with her third husband, who deemed her to be an unfit mother.

She was widely acclaimed for her performance opposite Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place (1950), won an Oscar for best supporting actress in The Bad and the Beautiful (in which she appeared with Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas) and performed her own stunts as Angel the elephant girl in Cecil B DeMille's Greatest Show On Earth.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, based on the memoir by her much younger lover, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), barely touches upon any of these events - since they predate the pair's unlikely encounter in a scouse boarding house.

(He was an actor-in-waiting. The faded Hollywood star had a lead role in a provincial stage play.)

 

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell as lovers in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.
Annette Bening and Jamie Bell as lovers in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

The filmmakers do, however, give Grahame the opportunity to deny some of the more salacious sexual allegations levelled against her in an awkward dinner scene with her mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and sister.

For the clearly smitten Turner, it's enough. For audiences hoping for a more definitive account of Grahame's life, it probably won't be.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is a tender, rosy-spectacled account of her later years.

The couple is no longer romantically involved when Turner gets a call from the hospital to say Grahame has taken ill.

She wants to stay with his family - presided over by the redoubtable Bella Turner (Julie Walters) - while she recuperates.

But as soon as Grahame has been installed in one of the upstairs bedrooms, it's clear to everyone - except perhaps Turner - she isn't going to recover.

 

Julie Walters (right) plays a no-nonsense matriarch in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.
Julie Walters (right) plays a no-nonsense matriarch in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

 

Just as obvious is the young man's ongoing affection his former lover (it's an unconventional union this working class family appears to accept entirely without judgment).

Their story unfolds in flashback.

Grahame and Turner's physical chemistry initially finds its expression in a standout dance sequence inspired by Saturday Night Fever.

Over time, the relationship deepens and Turner moves to LA and then New York before things sour, abruptly.

Bening is superb in the role of the ageing diva, lending depth, dignity, and an appealing playfulness to a character that could have been much more shallow. (There are echoes, here, of her captivating performance opposite Jeremy Irons in Being Julia.)

Bell is very good, too, as Bening's much younger paramour.

But since Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool unfolds from his point of view, it has some annoying blind spots.

As a tribute, the film is very tender. As a biography, it might have benefited from a more objective point of view.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool opens tomorrow.



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