HollywoodChicago.com RSS   Facebook   HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter   Free Giveaway E-mail   

Annette Bening Proves ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
Average: 5 (1 vote)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGOGEORGE BAILEY: “Hey, you look good. That’s some dress you got on there.” VIOLET: “This old thing? I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.” That is how actress Gloria Grahame (as Violet Bick) was introduced in the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Now she is portrayed by Annette Bening in “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool”.

The movie is based on a memoir by Peter Turner, who is portrayed in “Film Stars…” by Jamie Bell. Turner was a young actor who had an affair with the much older Grahame near the end of her life in the late 1970s/early ‘80s. He lived in Liverpool, England, and took care of the Oscar winner near her demise. The unusual May/December romance is characterized through Grahame’s deep insecurities, which Annette Bening plays to perfection. It’s also a somewhat claustrophobic film, mostly taking place in hotel rooms and the small Liverpool house of Peter’s parents, but that adds to the desperation and tension. So many of those notable actresses from the studio system era (1930s-50s) were forgotten and faded away, and Gloria Grahame was certainly a prime example.

The film opens with Grahame (Bening) preparing to go on stage in the play “The Glass Menagerie.” She is stricken in her dressing room, and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) is called. It turns out that Grahame has a advanced cancer that she didn’t disclose, so Turner puts her up in his parent’s home in Liverpool to convalesce. This distresses his mother and father (Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham) who feel that Grahame should die beside her American family.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The film also flashes back to the relationship of Gloria and Peter. It is revealed that Grahame has a predilection toward younger men, which could account for her four marriages, one of which was with her stepson from her second marriage, Tony Ray. Her deep insecurities, regarding aging, acting and her life’s purpose, severed many of the threads in her relationship with Peter.

At its roots, the film is a love story, and Jamie Bell interprets that love with a deep and passionate performance. He began his career as a child actor, bursting onto the scene as the title character in “Billy Elliot,” and has steadily built a character oriented career that keeps getting noticed. His Peter Turner is sensitive, naive and ultimately graceful, because he never loses the torch he carries for Grahame. Julie Walters, as his mother, provides the brash counterpoint the film needed, and serves to highlight Bell’s delicate wisp of a portrayal.

The film belongs to Annette Bening, who continues to make significant contributions to the cinema arts. Perhaps she completely understands the later days of Gloria Grahame, forced to grasp any crumbs of work after her glamourous movie star days are behind her. Bening is in no way the suffering older actress, but obviously observes what happens to a career once the age lines start forming. She plumbs the depths of that sorrow, and creates Grahame as fragile porcelain doll, ready to crack at the slightest provocation.

Julie Walters in ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

This is a period piece, having taken place 37 years ago, and the lower budget film has to stay away from larger perspectives of territory. Almost like a play, it takes place inside as Grahame suffers in her illness, depression and dread. There is an extraordinary scene with Graham’s aged mother (the great Vanessa Redgrave) and sister (Frances Barber). In front of Peter, they list the sins of the actress, including her fondness for younger men. Humiliated, Grahame is forced to run from the room. It seemed to reflect the fate of all women movie stars, constantly forced to hear what is wrong with them, until they leave.

There is a nice coda in the film that shows the actual Gloria Grahame on Oscar night in 1953. She won a Best Supporting trophy for “The Bad and the Beautiful,” in what to that point was the shortest on-screen performance to win the big prize. That is a perfect parallel to Grahame’s movie star life… short with an impact, but with a long and unknown road afterward. It stands to reason that one of her most famous films was “In a Lonely Place.”

”Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” continues its limited release in Chicago on January 12th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber and Vanessa Redgrave. Screenplay adapted by Matt Greenhalgh. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2018 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • Speech & Debate (stage play)

    CHICAGO – “Speech & Debate,” the latest production from the mighty Brown Paper Box Company, continues their tradition of thinking outside that “box” in presenting storefront theater that makes a statement and a difference. “Speech” goes inside America by showcasing the outsiders… those who create art because they can’t get it right in real life. This non-equity Chicago stage play premiere is finely tuned and wonderfully acted, and runs through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

  • We're Gonna Be Okay

    CHICAGO – The 1960s were a time of historical social transition. The movements – civil rights, feminist, gay rights – all had roots in that tumultuous decade. The Chicago premiere of Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay” echoes all of those movements in its characters, and collides them against the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The show has a Thursday-Sunday run at the American Theater Company through March 4th, 2018. Click here for more details, including ticket information.


HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter


HollywoodChicago.com Top Ten Discussions