Arts

Review: Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

BASED on a true story, director Paul McGuigan's handsomely mounted drama charts a star-crossed romance across class and cultural divides, conducted in the shadow of terminal illness.

While the steady decline of one half of this contemporary Romeo and Juliet coughs and splutters through tear-stained cliches, the on-screen chemistry of Annette Bening and Jamie Bell illuminates every frame of Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool.

They are a dynamic and instantly lovable double-act, stoking enough sexual tension to melt celluloid in the groovy opening scene of their courtship: an energetic hustle to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

The image of Bell jiving kindles fond memories of his breakout role as Billy Elliot. He has outgrown his ballet shoes and delivers a compelling performance here that tugs the heartstrings.

Bening employs a deft mixture of fizzing charm, naivete and mournful regret to portray screen siren Gloria Grahame, who is acutely aware of her power over the opposite sex.

We're similarly seduced.

In the summer of 1979, jobbing actor Peter Turner (Bell) and Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame are neighbours in a London guesthouse. It is more than two decades since Gloria's halcyon years, which included an Oscar win for The Bad And The Beautiful, but Peter is smitten.

He follows her to America and meets Gloria's indomitable mother Jeanne McDougall (Vanessa Redgrave) and jealous older sister Joy (Frances Barber). Peter is taken aback by the simplicity of his sweetheart's home – a trailer on the beach – but Gloria is content without the glitz of her studio days.

Peter struggles to find work and when Gloria receives a devastating diagnosis, she ends the affair to spare her beau greater pain.

Two years later, she returns to the UK for a stage role and collapses in her dressing room.

In her hour of need, Gloria calls for Peter and he dutifully takes charge of her recuperation in the home he shares with his father Joe (Kenneth Cranham), mother Bella (Julie Walters) and brother Joe Jnr (Stephen Graham).

Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool elegantly navigates the highs and lows of Peter and Gloria's turbulent relationship, harking back to an era when two pints of bitter cost a king's ransom of 90 pence.

The smouldering sensuality of Bening and Bell is complemented by robust, earthy supporting performances.

Walters provides the lion's share of broad comic relief as a house-proud mam, who isn't best pleased when Peter arrives unannounced with glamorous company.

"You should have given me some warning. I would have put the electric blanket on!" she trills.

The two leads generate enough heat to keep the entire house toasty warm.

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (15, 106 mins) Drama/Romance. Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber. Director: Paul McGuigan

RATING: 6.5/10

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