Sometimes a film comes along and smacks you in the face with how good it is; you see the trailer a dozen times and each time, it just doesn’t seem all that important. Then when your’e actually in that cinema, it’s impossible to believe how good it is. That was the experience Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool offered, and it was superb.
Based on his memoir of the same name, it follows Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a Liverpudlian actor navigating his way through his professional and family lives when he’s suddenly struck with the news that his former lover, 50’s film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) is back in the country and in need of care, and the film takes us through their passionate and rocky relationship.
Everything about Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is as charming as it’s title; from the writing to the direction, to the cinematography and performances, it wins on every level. Without wishing to spoil it, the narrative is presented in a far more non-linear sense than the trailers, and the method in which it transitions scenes is very impressive. It makes the story flow in a far more meaningful and effective manner that heightens the emotions and amplifies the impact of these events on Turner and Grahame’s later life. The performances all around are flawless; the likes of Stephen Graham and Julie Walters as Turner’s family members are brilliant, but it really comes down to the two leads. There was a lot of awards buzz around Bening, and though she didn’t score many nominations, her fragile and wondrous performance as Gloria Grahame is very tender and enlightening, though Jamie Bell is the true star of the film. He’s already so underrated, the fact that he couldn’t garner more love for what is easily his best performance is so disappointing. For a larger than life true story, he keeps everything on the ground with his stunted and emotional performance. Plus, listening to him talk in a scouse accent for an hour and forty-six minutes is somewhat infectious, especially if you can’t actually do the accent.
It’s almost hard to believe this is a true story; the tale of an aged film star beyond her prime falling in love with a working class struggling actor, sounds like fiction. Even when watching it, it has such a sense of wonder and tragedy to it that it could only seem made up, but the film regularly drives the point home that this was real and grounds the film with it’s direction and it’s raw power, showing that it’s a truly remarkable story. Above all else, the film is a heartbreaking experience, in the sense that it literally plunges it’s hand through your chest and rips your heart straight out. Few films manage a tear out of me while I’m actually in the cinema, in the presence of many other cinema goers, but this one simply could not be helped.
What seemed like a very standard British romance turned out to be one of the best films of the year. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is an enchanting yet grounded portrayal of a fascinating true love, with excellent storytelling and killer performances all around.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital now.