Given the co-lead in Paul McGuigan’s romantic drama Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a treasured, sparkling member of Hollywood’s golden age, it allows the director a certain licence to be overtly cinematic, to endearingly, and unashamedly present this film with the same indelible tone as the films which graced the screens during this wondrous time in cinema history. Yet while this approach frees the film of any commitment to gritty realism, such is the depth and nuance to the romantic relationship at the core of this tale, there have been few films quite so relatable and authentic as this in recent memory.
The aforementioned star of the silver screen is Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), an Oscar winner who could be seen in films such as Some Like It Hot. Though unlike her on-screen contemporary Marilyn Monroe, Grahame grew older and while always beautiful, she could just about get away with walking down the street and not be recognised, which extended to the young Liverpudlian Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) who first encountered her during her stay in London. The pair proceeded to fall hopelessly in love with one another, sharing their time between New York and Los Angeles – though after breaking up, when she falls ill there’s only one place she wants to go, and one person she wants to see – heading back to Liverpool to stay at Peter’s home.
Similarly to the recently released Call Me By Your Name, the age-gap between the two protagonists has no detrimental effect whatsoever on the narrative, for again the romance being depicted is a genuine, subtle and immensely identifiable one. We can place ourselves in the shoes of either role, as despite the contrasts in their social standing, their career paths or their ages, they experience the same highs and lows we all do when falling in love. What allows for the viewer to invest so fervently into their coming together is the breathtaking performance by Bell, who displays love in such an earnest, sincere fashion – you can see it in his eyes, and as an actor you can’t ask for much more than that, nor can you teach it. Naturally Bening matches her co-star at every turn, so good that McGuigan uses real life footage of Grahame from her movies and when she won her Academy Award, and it doesn’t matter at all, for we’ve already suspended our disbelief and we believe in Bening’s portrayal, and nothing can detract from our investment in the role.
Of course just to ensure we have a full house of talent, Julie Walters plays Peter’s mother, and when she’s in a film, it’s an instant stamp of approval, for she tends not to make anything that isn’t brilliant. And brilliant this wonderful movie is, so touching, so warm and so tender – and just to top it all off, there’s even a disco-dancing scene featuring the two lead roles. Billy Elliot may have grown up, but he didn’t forget how to boogie.