DVD Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

STUDIO: Sony | DIRECTOR: Paul McGuigan | CAST: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham, Kenneth Cranham
RELEASE DATE: April 24, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $16.23
BONUSES: commentary, four featurettes, Elvis Costello music video
SPECS: R | 106 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Better than its brief time in theaters would suggest, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool tells of the true-life romance between Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening, 20th Century Women) and aspiring thespian Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, Snowpiercer),who is 28 years her junior. Based on Turner’s 1986 memoir, the film skips across timelines, but mostly centers on the Grahame’s visit to London in the 1950s to appear in a show. There she befriends young Turner, who is living in the same boarding house where she is temporarily residing. The friendship evolves into a romance, but Grahame’s issues—involving her unpredictable emotional state, fading career and sometimes scandalous background, including a marriage to her stepson—get in the way of their relationship.

Fans of Hollywood lore familiar with Grahame’s work in films such as In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat and The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, should enjoy the behind-the-scenes drama of the fading screen queen. Bening is superb, inhabiting the complex role that asks her to be tough, vulnerable and sexy, sometimes at the same time. Unfortunately, the scenes with Bell, still best known for his turn in Billy Elliott in 2000, lack any sexual sparks, as director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) shoots the trysts in a muted, tasteful way. In fact, some of the best scenes in the film take place with Turner’s family, include Julie Waters (Brooklyn) and Kenneth Cranham (Maleficent) as Turner’s parents, who aid Grahame when she returns to England with serious health issues years later.

A melancholy film made on a relatively low budget that received generally favorable reviews, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool drew a disappointing $2 million-plus at the box-office. A much-deserved Oscar nomination for Bening would have undoubtedly helped financially, but it was not to be. Still, the actress’s presence and theatrical exposure—as light as it was, peaking in 107 theaters nationwide—should ensure decent ancillary market interest.

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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.