Annette Bening embodies the real Hollywood starlet Gloria Grahame in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Who was this lesser-known, but influential actress?
Grahame may not be as familiar to modern audiences as Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn, but in her day she was one of the silver screen’s bombshells. The on-screen siren did win an Academy Award for her role in The Bad and the Beautiful, but most would remember her as the blonde who tried to win George Bailey’s heart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even though she garnered awards and roles in films like Oklahoma! and In a Lonely Place, it was her personal life that got in the way of a successful career. Besides being difficult to work with on set, her four marriages and absentee parental style led to the studios turning their backs on her.
Later in her life, she found her place on stage in America and England. It was while she was doing a stage performance in Liverpool that she met a young aspiring actor named Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). After a love affair that spanned two continents, the former starlet suddenly asked the young Englishman to return to his homeland. As Peter tries to get back to life with his family in Liverpool, one night Gloria comes back to him asking for a place to stay. As he sees her in this vulnerable position, his youthful innocence is shattered, and he realises why she was pushing him away.
Reminiscent of the wonderful film My Week with Marilyn, this biographical sketch is based on the true-to-life accounts of a young man’s brief brush with fame. Peter Turner shares the accounts of his love affair with Gloria Grahame and director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) strips away the makeup and turns down the lights while exposing the reality of their lives. This raw and genuine love story between the fading movie star and the unknown actor from the neighbourhoods of Liverpool shows the melancholy and pain that comes with the loss of fame and notoriety.
Even though Turner wrote this book from his perspective, the biography’s focus is primarily on Annette Bening. She manages to embody the beautifully tragic persona that Grahame became in her later life. Their connection goes back to an earlier stage in Bening’s career, which she credits her performance in The Grifters to the inspirational work of Gloria Grahame. Jamie Bell and Julie Walters provide strong performances as the Turner family, but they are merely small planets that orbit the star of Gloria Grahame. Both of these supporting actors show the depth of emotion and support needed for their characters, but seem to understand that this is indeed Bening’s opportunity to shine.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool shows the impact of life’s choice on all we do and that we cannot run away from our past. The mature and sombre themes of this film will keep this in consideration for awards season but will most likely fail to connect with a broader audience. It is a compelling story and contains strong performances from the central cast, but is far from being a holiday feel-good story.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
There is a multitude of films and books written on the rise and fall of stars from a multitude of fields. It allows audiences to see the very human experiences of these individuals who spend various lengths of time in the public eye. The interest from the general populace can stem from placing these individuals on a pedestal throughout their careers, but then seeing the human side of life after fame.
To a lesser degree, we all experience this as we progress through life. Success can come in the form of sport, academics, business or in other endeavours, but how do we deal with the lower points in life?
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10
The issue comes down to where we place our worth and identity. If you place your trust in the accolades of others and in the achieving of goals, this will lead to eventual disappointment and depression. As seen throughout the Bible and in the words of James, the solution is to place your trust in the Lord for your worth. If all you do is done for the honour of the Lord, regardless of how mankind responds to it, you will be encouraged by God. Even though the good and bad times will come, the Lord’s support will be the constant that can sustain you.