Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Dir: Paul McGuigan. Cast: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave

I hr 45 mins, UK, 2017

Annette Bening is always a joy to watch (see my post on 20th Century Women) and in the scene here when she and Jamie Bell disco-dance together one afternoon, in her cluttered lodgings, she is really flying; Jamie Bell is pretty watchable too. 

methodetimesprodwebbinda2b2b22-cad0-11e7-b529-95e3fc05f40fThe film is based on a true story: struggling young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) found himself in the late 1970s sharing  a house in Primrose Hill with a one-time Hollywood star of black-and-white movies, Oscar-winning Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). The two of them fell in love (after the dancing in the afternoon?) and then he followed her back to America. Rather than tell him of her cancer diagnosis she dumped him and sent him back to England, but then came back to England herself, terminally ill, hoping to end her days in Peter’s working-class family home in Liverpool, which she had heard so many good things about.
The London scenes are terrific. Bening and Bell deal subtly with the anxieties that the two characters have about the gap in age between them, or, in other words, the anxiety both have about the fact that she is a much older woman. We see how the pleasure that they take in each other, physically and emotionally,  overcomes that anxiety. It is credible, moving, and, well, lovely. (It’s interesting how gendered this subject is – I mean when it’s an old(er) man and young woman (Woody Allen, eg, or Bill Murray) the audience is expected to accept it as unremarkable.)
Turner accompanies Gloria Grahame to California and meets her mother and sister: a hilarious scene with excellent cameo performances from Vanessa Redgrave, and from Frances Barber as the sour, resentful sister.
But then the film seems to lose its way. In Peter’s Liverpool home Mum (Julie Walters), Dad (Kenneth Cranham) and angry young brother Joe (Stephen Graham) sit around the kitchen table as if they are refugees from a low-budget TV drama of the period. While Annette Bening puts on a fine show of dying upstairs in the (surprisingly large) spare bedroom, downstairs the Turner family seem to be only going through the motions of acting.
I wish we had been given more dancing.


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