Movie Review: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Legendary actor, director and theorist, Konstantin Stanislavski, is quoted as saying that “There are no small parts, only small actors.” While that may be true, what’s also true is that for actresses over 40 in Hollywood, unless your name is Meryl Streep, there aren’t even small parts. The film, FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, tells the story of one such actress whose Hollywood career ended long before it should have.

Based on the memoir by British actor Peter Turner, the film picks up in 1981 where faded, 57-year-old, Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame (THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, but perhaps best known today for her portrayal of Violet Bick in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) is appearing in a play in Lancaster, England. After collapsing in her dressing room before going on stage one night, Grahame (played by Annette Bening, AMERICAN BEAUTY and a whole lot more) makes the decision to go to Liverpool where her old boyfriend, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, BILLY ELLIOT), lives, with the intent to spend her final days in his family’s care. The story then flashes back two years to how the couple met and their subsequent relationship.

Although that relationship was short-lived, it was, according to Turner, passionate as he was truly infatuated if not deeply in love with the woman who was twice his age. Her life, to that point, was nothing short of scandalous though, what with four marriages under her belt including one to her second husband’s son whom, it was rumoured, she seduced when he was just 13. Did Grahame love Turner back or did she simply like the feeling of having a young man’s attention? Perhaps it was a bit of both, as the story leads us to believe.

All said and done, this is a very thread-bare story – the memoir is only 176 pages long – but both Bening and Bell do wonderful work with what they’re given. For Bening, who is about the same age as Grahame was when she died, it’s really a shame that we don’t see her more often on the screen than we do as she really is a delight to watch. Her latest film, THE SEAGULL, was just released in the States. No word on when it’s coming here. She’s also reported to be in the upcoming CAPTAIN MARVEL film due out next March.

The film also features two other actresses we don’t see enough of – Julie Walters (BROOKLYN; the PADDINGTON series), who plays Turner’s stalwart mother with her usual charm, and Vanessa Redgrave (FOXCATCHER) who, as Grahame’s acerbic-tongued mother really proves Stanislavski’s adage about small parts to be true.

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL is fairly good film for what it is. Check it out. Just be prepared for the jumpy shifts in time. When the first one came, I thought there was something wrong with the film print.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, May 31st at 8:30 am HK time!

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