The hopeful nature of the title of this film is deceptive. What I imagined was going to be a love letter to both show-business and Merseyside was in fact a quite tragic star-crossed love story with an inevitable doom casting a shadow over it from extremely early on.
Its cast was extremely respectable, with Annette Bening playing the mysterious and beautiful Gloria Grahame, who falls in love with the heart-warmingly adorable Scouser, Peter Turner, played by Jamie Bell. And with supporting actors like Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave, it promised to be a star-studded and extremely emotive performance all round. And for the most part it was- Bening’s Monroe-esque husky, ditsy voice juxtaposed beautifully with the Scouse accent of Bell, reflecting the opposing stages in their lives each was at. The transitions into the flashbacks were very cleverly orchestrated, but obvious enough so the audience knew what was happening in the timeline of the character’s lives.
Despite the admirable efforts of all the cast members, Bell’s performance was what carried the film. He portrayed himself as a man whole-heartedly in love, while still retaining the hot-headed, slightly arrogant persona that Grahame presumably fell in love with in the first place. The contrast between the happiness of their time together and the misery of Gloria’s fight with cancer was sometimes a little too stark and blatant, but this on the whole did not blight the film in any way.
Bening’s performance was very impressive, as there must be a lot of pressure that comes with playing an Academy Award-winning actress from Hollywood’s heyday. However, I can’t help but feel that, had the project perhaps had more funding, there could have been actresses that would have played the role slightly more sensitively- Emma Thompson and Meryl Streep were names that sprang to mind while watching it, but obviously they presumably have a large asking price. She played the sick Gloria very well, and the expressiveness of her body and face clearly demonstrated the pain she was feeling both inwardly and outwardly. However, happy, in-love Gloria was slightly too cliché and girly. This may have been down to the writing, which (among a largely realistic and earthy style for the rest of the characters) had some very corny moments, especially for Gloria.
There are moments when it slips and falls into the land of cliché
I cannot help but feel that the deliverance of the some of the key moments in the film, like the argument in the hotel room or Peter’s stay with her in LA could have been a bit more natural and a bit less theatrical. But perhaps that’s just the way Gloria was to Peter- it is based on a book written by him after all, which in itself makes the film only a partial representation of her, as we’re only seeing her through one pair of eyes, and based on the last two or three years of her life.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a very interesting concept, with an unusual love story, a very good soundtrack and clever cinematography. There are moments when it slips and falls into the land of cliché, which detracts from the very real content of the plot- it’s not just star-crossed film stars who have to deal with suffering from cancer.
On the whole, it’s a well-performed and well-executed interpretation of the latter days of what seems to have been a truly remarkable love story.