Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool review: Paul McGuigan (Gangster No. 1, Lucky Number Slevin) brings this stunning portrait of love in the late 70s to screens. Will it be this year’s runaway Oscar success?
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool review by Paul Heath.
EON Productions choose their projects well. The company behind the James Bond movies rarely venture outside of that franchise, but when they do, you know you’re in for something special – and that is exactly what you get from Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, an absolute masterpiece in film-making.
Annette Benning plays Gloria Grahame, an ageing Oscar-winning actress who we meet in her dressing room preparing for a performance in a theatre somewhere in the north of England, Elton John’s ‘Song For Guy’ playing over the soundtrack. However, all is not well as she attempts to head to the stage, collapsing in a heap on the floor in a rage of agony. We learn that she has an illness, and wants to be with Jamie Bell’s Peter Turner, and stay with him and his family sixty miles away until she gets better. Peter lives with his family – mother Bell (Julie Walters) and father Joe (Kenneth Cranham) in a modest Liverpool terraced house, and all that Gloria wants to do is lay in bed in the spare room until her mystery illness passes.
Gloria and Peter share a history, but we soon discover that things weren’t left particularly amicably upon their last meeting. The film uses clever flashbacks and tell ‘their story’, from their initial meeting in a house share in London’s swanky Primrose Hill two years previous, their very first dates together in the weeks that followed, and their further encounters that led them to where they find themselves now.
Featuring a stunning cast, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool captivates from the off, sending you on a glitzy, well-crafted journey that will leave you overcome with emotion throughout.
This is quite the emotionally journey, and McGuigan takes us on this journey with style – the experience very much feeling like a theatrical production, employing clever camera moves and set changes as we switch from scene to scene, time period to time period. He also uses a lot of rear project, an old school technique in a Hollywood that over uses CGI, but that is absolutely not apparent here. It’s a joy to watch, an although the film is an emotional experience, we never once feel manipulated, an ode to the wonderful script from Matt Greenhalgh (Control), based on Turner’s memoir.
Stephen Graham, arguably one of England’s finest working actors shows up in a supporting role as Peter’s brother ray, while Frances Barber and Vanessa Redgrave are also amongst the impressive supporting players. Jamie Bell plays a very empathetic lead in Peter, the young actor showing huge range in a very mature performance – arguably his best work since his early role in Billy Elliot, but it is absolutely Bening’s film, and she commands in every scene she’s in.
If you expect the film to predictable, well, yes it may be a little – but, hey – the title obviously reveals way too much itself. The predictability is not the point of the piece, as it matters not one bit. This is a love story in its purest form – one which refuses to have any boundaries – be it nationality, location or, obviously, age.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool swept me up and had me cowering in my seat as the final credits rolled, a sequence that just about allows you to mop up your tears before you venture outside the auditorium.
Bening is a cert for a Best Actress nod, but don’t discount Bell either – both are magnificent in every scene.
At last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which included the likes of Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea and La La Land, it was obvious to see the front-runners for awards season. TIFF 2017 was different, no one film getting anywhere near the all-round standard than any of those aforementioned movies. That changed when Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool screened in the closing days. This is the triumph of the festival and absolutely one of the best films of the year. Outstanding in every way.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool review by Paul Heath, September 2017.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool will be released in the UK on 17th November 2017.