Posted Sep 18 2017

LFF Preview - Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Dir: Paul McGuigan

Starring Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber

With its tragic true life story, and its festival roll out, it would be easy to see Film Stars Don’t… as a late career bid to land Annette Bening that so far elusive Oscar. And, not that she couldn't be a contender, but more importantly, this adaptation of Peter Turner’s memoir is a far less cynical and far more rewarding film than that.

Turner (as played by a never better Bell) is a 28 year old actor who finds himself becoming involved with the notably older and notably faded Hollywood star Gloria Grahame. They meet in Primrose Hill in 1979, and she returns to find him in his family home in Liverpool in 1981 by which point, given the title, you kind of know that things aren’t going too well.

One of the things that works extremely well in McGuigan’s mostly understated movie is the relationship these two central actors bring to life. It risks being contrived, uncomfortable even. But from the moment they do the Travolta Hustle together (Bell reminding us that he was once Billy Elliot), you completely believe this coupling. More than that, you care for them as well as about them. It’s no mean feat and one that owes it success to the beautifully judged central performances, and to the dexterity of McGuigan’s direction. Always an arch-stylist, McGuigan finds subtle but smart ways to expand his limited locations and budget both, most notably in his dream-like transitions in which characters move through doorways into both another period of their relationship and often another country completely. His backdrops may evoke the look of old Hollywood movies, but his storytelling is much more humane and contemporary than that.

It almost goes without saying that it is extremely well played by a very strong cast. Bening is as terrific as expected, but in curious way, it’s Bell, in what stands as his most adult performance to date (and he’s been an adult for awhile now) who resonates the most, who stays with you after the Elvis Costello-accompanied titles roll.

Adding another couple for comparison’s sake and more, Julie Waters and Kenneth Cranham also deliver the goods as Peter’s parents (with Waters obviously offering up a touch of the meta by reuniting with her former dance pupil Billy.) Indeed, the only slightly off-note in the cast is older brother Stephen Graham who, with his trackies and his perma-perm is a touch too close to Scouse Harry Enfield for comfort.

But it’s a minor quibble. It’s unlikely that Film Stars Don’t…will be a major awards player – and if Bening does feature it will more likely be out of friendship and respect that worthiness. But it’s a very decent film with some really sold work.

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpoll is currently playing the festival circuit - catch it at the LFF on October 11,12 & 15 - before opening November 17

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