Annette Bening has been making a quiet resurgence lately, now following last year's swirling 20th Century Women, she leads Paul McGuigan's aching romance Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - and here's my review, from LFF.

Based on the memoir by actor and writer Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), Film Stars is set in the late 1970’s and tells the true story of his real movie romance with legendary Hollywood star Gloria Graham (Bening). A movie romance, how? It’s a love story that feels like it exists only for the silver screen, made all the more touching and bittersweet that it’s grounded in reality. With Graham coming to the endgame of her career, she finds herself residing in the same house as Turner – an unknown, struggling young actor at the time.  The pair hit it off, and fall in love, only for their relationship to come to an end. But, a few years after their affair, Turner is surprised to receive a phone call informing him that Grahame fell ill and is adamant on coming to stay with Peter and his family in Liverpool, England – convinced she can recover there. This is a film about a couple absorbed by one another and we believe it.

We should perhaps talk about the performances that sell this and Bening and Bell have such effortless and energetic chemistry together, their love is palpable and believable and felt. There is an innocence to their romance; the pair first meet when Grahame invites Turner to dance with her and assist her in practicing for a routine and it’s a charming scene – the pair boogie and laugh and there is an almost youthful fruitfulness to it. It’s sincere, though. And this is due to the dazzling work from our leading pair. Jamie Bell is a knockout, giving what is easily the best performance of his career as Turner. He’s affecting, likeable and suave but he brings such emotional gravitas and such personality to the character that makes it difficult to imagine any other actor doing as good a job in the role. He’s matched by an effervescent Bening; she’s glowing and buoyantly larger-than-life. But there’s a vulnerability to this gigantic star, and it grounds the role with such deep humanity. They’re anchored by a brilliant supporting cast too, featuring the likes of Julie Waters, Kenneth Cranham, and a truly hilarious Stephen Graham.
But we’ve seen many love-stories put to screen before – just earlier this year we received a brilliant one in The Big Sick – so what makes Film Stars standout from the crowd? Yes, we have an incredible plethora of performances on offer throughout but it’s the beguiling story and the central relationship that is delivered with such heart and sincerity that make this shine. McGuigan tells this story with such purposeful, and unhurried, patience and care that makes it just feels so genuine and so relatable. It’s this rich authenticity and attention to detail and that McGuigan brings that really get us deeply invested and riveted. And by the time the film develops its emotional footing, it hits like a sledgehammer. This film is sad. It’s heart-wrenching and gut-punching and it hits. And it hits hard. There was not a dry eye in the screening once the credits had rolled. It’s a testament to Paul McGuigan’s masterful direction and storytelling, that he is able to create something so witty and charming but also so powerfully and quietly moving and emotional because of just how enraptured with these characters and their story and romantic journey we become.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is, simply put, a masterpiece. It’s a gorgeously shot, luscious and very cinematic story – again, this is a movie romance in every way. But it’s grounded in such palpable humanity and authenticity that it’s as real as can be. Paul McGuigan has created something so soaring and triumphant, an ode to old-school Hollywood and to pure, unwavering love and it makes for such a touching, enjoyable, and – yes, most certainly – deeply moving experience. There is a line in the film, in which a character compliments Grahame on a performance she has just given in a theatre piece, saying that “superlatives are redundant”. Well, it’s a fitting encapsulation of this film as a whole. Because superlatives are genuinely redundant in describing Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. It’s seriously just that gorgeous, swirling and staggering. And easily a romance film for the ages.



Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool is a swirling, magnetic masterpiece; this is a gorgeous, heartbreaking and absolutely staggering cinematic triumph.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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