Tropic Sprockets / Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

By Ian Brockway

Paul McGuigan (Wicker Park) directs “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” a stirring portrait of the noir actress Gloria Grahame in her later years, as she takes refuge with Peter Turner in the late 70s in England. The movie, based on a memoir of the same name, is striking and impactful. This is largely due to Annette Bening,  who gives her role the full breadth of life. Her Grahame is alluring, funny, harsh, sensitive and fragile, sometimes overcome with a crippling lack of self confidence.

Grahame was the sultry actress of classics like “The Big Heat” and “In a Lonely Place.” The latter won her an Academy Award.

The actress grew pathologically concerned with her appearance, chiefly her lips. The first scene bears this out as Grahame applies her lipstick.

The film mainly focuses on the period after the dissolution of the actress’s third marriage to her actual stepson Tony Ray.
It is 1978 and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) lives in the apartment next door. Grahame asks Turner about “Saturday Night Fever” and they begin to dance.

Romance grows. The couple have a great sense of fun sharing meals and going to see the quite gory and scary film “Alien.” The bond grows stronger.

Challenges develop however when Grahame becomes more insecure about her age and not getting work. Turner loves her passionately but he is confused by the star’s moods.

The magic of this film is that it manages a bouyancy and a feeling of love with rather somber events. Grahame and Turner are real people here and they love one another.

In a sense the couple make a true Romeo and Juliet, the play they both love. Though the events are sobering, it is by no means an overwhelming or sad film as the love is handled so energetically.

Fans of British drama will recognize Julie Walters as the mother of the household.
Annette Bening is a marvel for transcending this movie maven and making her not seem sick at all but a vivacious person full of gusto and spirit, with irrepressible traces of sensuality.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” illustrates the full arc of a romance well -experienced and a siren who refuses to give in. Grahame’s last click of the tongue is a testament to her undeniable allure, the very thing that made her famous.

Write Ian at