Matt Greenhalgh’s beautiful adaptation of Peter Turner’s memoir combined with Paul McGuigan’s tender direction makes for compelling and heartbreaking viewing.
Jamie Bell and Annette Bening offer up two stunningly raw performances in this tender film about the ups and downs of the relationship between film actress Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner in the final years of her life.
Directed with precision and delicacy by Paul McGuigan, every raw emotion captured on Bening and Bell’s faces is beautifully brought into focus as the film switches between the past and present with great style.
From the moment that Peter and Gloria first meet, there is a clear spark of attraction between the pair, with the relationship between them progressing quickly as Gloria in particular leans on Peter for emotional support. It would be so easy for the relationship to be forced and contrived, but that is the joy of Annette Bening and Jamie Bell’s performances – it all feels very natural and believable, their chemistry just right for the emotional core of the film.
Matt Greenhalgh’s exquisite adaptation really draws focus on both character’s dependence on each other, leading to some wonderful moments between the pair. In particular, the scene in which Peter takes Gloria to a theatre to re-enact a scene from Romeo and Juliet (a play which Gloria always wanted to do) is particularly well orchestrated by both McGuigan and Greenhalgh, sharply bringing to focus the endearing affection between the pair.
The opening scenes seem to whizz by at quite a pace, sharply edited to the point where it can come across as quite haphazard and careless at times, offering snapshots into Gloria and Peter’s relationship rather than insight. This is really shown as scenes switch between them meeting for the first time then dancing one minute to going to the cinema together at quite a pace that can be difficult to keep up with.
But it is the rawness of the emotions that really hits home, as Gloria begins to push Peter away after her diagnosis – their arguments and frustration begin to crack through, underlined by J. Ralph’s wonderful music that highlights the emotions in the scene perfectly.
Equally, the way in which Paul McGuigan flits between the past and present is done with wonderful style that helps the film flowing in an understated and poignant way. But his biggest triumph is the performances that he has managed to draw out of his extremely talented cast.
Annette Bening in particular is wonderful to watch as the spirited former Hollywood star. She lights up the screen so effortlessly as she flirts with Jamie Bell’s Peter, but her vulnerability and pain is also compelling to watch – particularly in the final scenes in which her spirit has clearly been knocked out her by her illness. Her performance is delicate and understated and she fully deserves recognition for it.
Jamie Bell also delivers a highly mature and deeply felt performance as Peter. His care and attention to Gloria is endearing and believable, highlighted in the scenes in which he fights to protect her right to not to tell her family about her illness or consult a doctor, leading to conflict within his own family is a particularly raw and intense scene. But it is the look of utter devastation when he learns of Gloria’s condition stays long in the mind after the film ends.
But it is a strong cast overall. Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham are wonderfully warm to watch as Bella and Joe Turner, while Vanessa Redgrave makes a welcome appearance as Jeanne.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a heartbreaking but compelling film to watch with a strong emotional presence that lingers with the audience long after it has finished. Well worth a watch.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool will be available on Digital Download on the 11th March and on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 19th March.