Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Feb 12, 2018

Actors Bening and Bell lift the material from maudlin to engagingly melodramatic.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Grade: B+

Director: Paul McGuigan (Wicker Park)

Screenplay: Matt Greenhalgh (Control), based on the memoir by Peter Turner

Cast: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 45 min

by John DeSando

“Tell me how I look.”  Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening)

My vote for the most morose film of the year goes to Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.  Starring Annette Bening as Gloria Grahame, who won the best supporting Oscar back in the day (1952), this weeper is predominantly about a former star that gradually dies of cancer during the tedious course of the film. Sunset Boulevard, which dealt vigorously with the fading star motif, it is not.

Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), 28 to her 60 something, gives a fine, sympathetic performance as a young man who falls in love with a fading star and older woman. Together with Bening’s controlled, subtly sad Grahame, the two have a caring chemistry although the passion fades as the cancer proceeds. If you remember how well Bening played a ditz in Postcards from the Edge, you’ll know why she so easily inhabits this role.

While director Paul McGuigan expertly integrates old footage of Grahame, the film doesn’t dwell long enough on that famous strutting moment in It’s a Wonderful Life and her Oscar-winning performance in The Bad and the Beautiful. Rather it’s about what to do in Liverpool with a star on her way out. Not as engaging as it might be because it is about waiting for death with its daunting demands on the living.

What is worth seeing in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is Bening’s believable performance. As the quote above shows, Grahame’s superficial life as a B star kept her firmly in a mediocre career where looks ruled.  The same could be said of this somber docudrama.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at