Film Star’s Don’t Die In Liverpool : A Film Review


Directed by Paul McGuigan, Produced by Barbara Broccoli, Colin Vaines, Written by Matt Greenhalgh, Based on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool by Peter Turner, Cast Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber, Leanne Best, Music by J. Ralph, Cinematography Ula Pontikos, Edited by Nick Emerson, Production company Eon Productions, IM Global, Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Lionsgate. Duration 1hr 45mins. Cert. 15.


Short and Bittersweet

Love stories can be rife and fleeting as this one, a tale told firstly by Peter Turner in his memoir. A British actor who encountered and formed a bond with the famous actress provocateur come auteur Gloria Grahame is the story he reveals. Annette Bening was found an ideal partner in Jamie Bell as a foil to her elegance and fire. Outrageously nailing the actress part, as you half expect, Annette Bening scopes out this story in a fiendishly accurate portayal suited only to an actress of her own standing. The part would be meat and drink to many actresses but it is a fine line to be over indulgent and too expressive and here the trap is held shut. Jame Bell is at ease throughout showing his own mastery of roles. Both run the mill of emotions. Bell playing Peter Turner is adept at being a chameleon he proves again here. He is in his element fancying a much more successful actor and getting back a mutual attraction.

Tabloids love sirens


The Mirror Newspaper tells it as it is! But what on earth brought Gloria Grahame from palm-fringed Sunset Boulevard to the no-nonsense reality of Liverpool; from the gold-paved Rodeo Drive to Penny Lane, the heartbeat of the Beatles’ music?

To understand that, you need to know of the carnage of a life which preceded it.

You need to know why, on September 29 1981, a critically ill Gloria Grahame phoned Peter Turner from a Lancaster hotel and pleaded with him to take her to his home in Liverpool.

Told she was dying, she refused to believe it. She was convinced that her streetwise ex-lover could outsmart the doctors.


Acting excels

Despite the sterling troubadour performances it is not immediately clear why it needed to make it to the screen. As a true story it was something of a two hander and the families of whom Turners feature quite significantly aware brought it as they provided a roof over her head while ill and in support of their son. It shamefully reminded me, through its resounding central casting of place, of the Liverpool series, The Liver Birds, or eighties series The Boswells. Stephen Graham channels his Liverpudlian spats as Peters brother with a curly mop of black hair and minor detail spoiler here he is Sans Moustache. No young souscer  in the ‘Pool would be a man without the Ian Rush, Terry McDermott, Graeme Souness, (Liverpool Footballers) and numerous others tashe in the early eighties. It might be because this household were Everton supporters. As a brother he is an argumentative but ultimately supportive type. Stephen Graham has little to work with. Mother Turner is the delightfully immersive Julie Walters striving under another era wig and suitable kitchen friendly poor costume selection. She channels her rough tongue Liverpool style. Also in the frame is the robust and earthily appropriate Ken Cranham. Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber have camp roles as Gloria’s mother and sister respectively.


1981 to 1979 flashbacks galore

The opening is a scene which shows Gloria Grahame getting a curtain call for opening a play in the Watford Palace Theatre. She collapses and it is then forward to the diagnosis and then the games people play. GG had four husbands and two were movie producers of some clout. She also had great parts in some very famous movies from Oklahoma to Its a wonderful life. Hollywood provided the warmth and the pain. While we reel (no pun intended) from one scandal to the next the fakery of cinemas main value itself becomes an overlarge obstacle to truly absorb the experience as knowledge forming and it becomes a part of the narrative. This is one aspect of the film which it inadvertently assists in analysing.  GG also saw a realism she lacked in Hollywood in Liverpool.

Oasis swampland Hollywood

There is a dream called Hollywood and it often turns into a nightmare as recent revelations accord. This would have been even more so in Gloria Grahame’s time and she worked with the biggest stars around. Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn the latter whose life as a rake made progress to the escape through women of this ‘stinking bloody world’ as he patrolled the film world and beyond the affections of the siren film noir Gloria would not have escaped his attention of conquest. Errol Flynn The Untold Story by Charles Higham covers this sordid world or alternatively if preferred for sensitive folk, the ‘disturbed dream state’ of Los Angeles. Flynn’s own autobiography was a fictional version to cover ‘My Wicked, Wicked Ways’.

Gloria Grahame was not as careless wise as Flynn probably as the weakness for drugs and other substances harmed him during his career and despite this even a tamer version of him during illness, such as in The Prince and the Pauper brought screen brightness. Gloria Grahame’s screen presence during the same period was as an electric siren and idol for women having strength. So it is characteristically Hollywood’s pathos of touch to bring a dramatic and ruthless conclusion to her career.



It would have been more interesting if the film had not laboured on it being an account of Peter Turners involvement in a few years if it were to introduce more of the wider career and then stories of great interest from her early years and her drawing those comparisons. Instead we are in third and fourth gear and stop most of the time. I5 became irritating to see the device of one door open and the change of time scale to change as it was made theatrical without it having any stage presence, never mind screen presence. It just was a formless device as were the backdrop illusions.

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Billy Elliot can dance

The thing Jamie Bell channels is his louching Chris Eccleston Everyman. The hands diving into his jean pockets, the legs, one straight the other pointed to the side. It must be an acting school think and though unlikely an in joke. The acting is theatrical as is the direction. Emphasis is on framing and static views mostly. It is clearly a choice of direction to scene set with the use of ‘backcloth’ motion and moving skies, sunsets and car drives. It does not fill a hole which is story size. Everyone who watches this film can see where it’s going and it’s not too cheerful. It involves the fall after the rise through a very debilitating period in the 57 year olds life.

Look Jamie – This is THE way to stand.


It is a dampener to place a three on this but it is full of very boring and unalarming notes. The famous actress is not as well known as some from the same period but the consumption of movies is multi-versed. Biopics are a subject which can serve brilliantly in Cinema. This one is a Case of a good cast being there and on their game without a robust approach to the story. They are a pleasure to watch as performers. They know the business. Billy/Jamie wants JAMES Bond. Barbara Brocolli is in the producers throne so you get the picture. You wanna be in pictures.

Over the recent past the scrutiny of the public is focusing on behaviors and they are at a loss a lot of the time what they are confronting. The mild manners of the male are in this case at opposites of the usual role call and the male is a cougars conquest and some detail of being used as well as loved is scoped out but it still did not add up to much for me unfortunately.

John Graham

18 November 2017


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool will screen at QFT

from 17th November 2017 until 23rd November 2017

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