It’s astonishing to see the control that the director Paul McGuigan exercises over the overtly sentimental drama.
So if you get the impression that is a film about an ill-matched bohemian couple indulging in a scandalous affair, then banish the thought.
“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” (at least the one in this film doesn’t) is a deeply tragic tale of star-crossed love, almost like a “Romeo and Juliet” whose Juliet is, in the words of Liverpool’s Romeo old enough to play Juliet’s nurse.
The rise of talking pictures coincided with the Great Depression. The ostensible golden age of the studios paralleled the darkest days of the thirties. Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane,” released two months and two days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, sparked an artistic revolution amid the Second World War’s stifled traumas. Current-day Hollywood contrives its public self-image from the phantoms and the fumes of the classic studio era; in the process, it evokes, with a fallacious longing, the hard-knock times that high-studio movies symbolize. The latest revenant of reflected glory is in not a Hollywood movie but a British one—“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” based on the British actor Peter Turner’s memoir about his relationship with the Hollywood luminary Gloria Grahame, which began in 1978 (when she was fifty-four and he was twenty-six) and lasted until her death, in 1981.
As the title of Turner’s brisk, poignant book suggests, it’s the story of how Grahame, one of the most celebrated (and, to my mind, one of the best) movie actors of the nineteen-fifties, ended up being nursed through her final illness by him and his pleasantly unexceptional, warmly conventional working-class English family (who offer an extraordinary breadth of generosity and depth of emotion). The book’s strength is found in its sketches of surprising personal connections through a diverse range of places and settings: Turner and Grahame met in London, visited California and Las Vegas, and lived together in New York before Turner returned to Liverpool and, after a break in their relationship, was summoned to London to gather Grahame there and deal with her failing health. Turner, a working actor of local renown, found himself in contact with a legend whose way of life had become surprisingly ordinary but whose personality retained its grandeur, whose every casual remark resonated with the weight of a past that was populated by potentates and geniuses and by fierce conflicts—intimate, public, and historical. Continue reading →
Chris Knight: There’s little that feels unseemly about the film, whose wish-fulfillment vibe is strengthened by the drab-chic look of 1980s Britain
There’s a lovely little subgenre, often British, in which a regular Johnny has a brush with A-list fame. Think of Eddie Redmayne and Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn; Zac Efron meeting (British-born) Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles; or, in the realm of pure fiction, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.
The latest, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, is based on the book by British actor Peter Turner, and on the life of American film star Gloria Grahame, who died in 1981 – in New York, to be clear. You may remember her as the flirtatious Violet in 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life (“I only wear this when I don’t care how I look,” she says of a clingy, traffic-stopping dress) or from an Oscar-winning supporting role a few years later in The Bad and the Beautiful. [ . . . ] Read Full Review at: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool brings an oddball May-September romance back to life