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‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool’ rings true, if not deeply

The two stars of “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” didn’t get any love from the Academy Awards this year, but both Annette Bening and Jamie Bell earned 2018 BAFTA (British Oscar) nominations, for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively.

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Annette Bening is especially good, playing a former Hollywood actress who is now touring England, doing theatre. The year is 1979.

In Liverpool, she meets a much younger fellow actor (Jamie Bell) in her boarding house and they strike up an acquaintance.

Bening: You’re the next-door guy right?

Bell: Which makes you the girl next door?

Bening: I need a partner for my dance class. If I make you a drink, will you come into my room and hustle with me?

Bell: If you fix me a drink, I’ll come in and clean your bathroom.

Despite their age difference (she’s in her late fifties, he’s 28), the two seem to hit it off. Romantically.

Bell: Has anyone ever told you look like Lauren Bacall when you smoke?

Bening: Humphrey Bogart, and I didn’t like it then either.

That Bogart line isn’t just some lazy screenwriter’s name-dropping. Bening is playing a real Hollywood actress, Gloria Grahame, who starred opposite Bogie in the classic, “In A Lonely Place.” Grahame’s breakout role was in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – she played Violet – and she went on to star in a string of film noir classics, even winning an Oscar.

And yes, Grahame did have an affair with a younger Liverpudlian actor Peter Turner who wrote a memoir about it entitled “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” the basis for this movie.

But this isn’t some cheap tell-all tale. It’s a heartfelt account of an unusual love affair that morphs into a care-taking situation when Gloria gets cancer.

Despite the odd contours of Gloria and Peter’s relationship, this is a very romantic movie, a very gauzy account of a love affair told from the point of view of someone still very much in love.

It glosses over many of the more scandalous aspects of Grahame’s life (her four husbands, a marriage to her step-son, etc.), and shies away from any psychological probing. The film barely even addresses the age-gap issue between her and Turner. It’s strictly an observational rather than an analytical look at an evolving relationship.

But the intensity of the acting more than compensates for the shallower aspects of the movie. Annette Bening brilliantly portrays the complexities of an aging femme fatale. And Jamie Bell, in a potentially thankless role, manages to convince us that he indeed would want to pursue an emotional entanglement.

Thanks to their great acting and an excellent supporting cast which includes Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave, “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” rings true, even if not deeply.

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