Review: Bening plays fading actress in ‘Film Stars’

Annette Bening is Oscar winner Gloria Grahame in bittersweet story of actress’ later years

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Annette Bening is black-and-white film actress Gloria Grahame in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” a bittersweet romance about fading fame and what happens when the limelight is switched off.

Annette Bening and Jamie Bell star in “Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool.”

Grahame was a star in the ’40s and ’50s, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1952’s “The Bad and the Beautiful.” “Film Stars” isn’t interested in this period in Grahame’s life. The movie picks up in the late 1970s, when her career is washed up and she’s renting a room at a boarding house in Liverpool.

Grahame has been through the tabloid ringer and has filed through four husbands when she meets Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), an actor in his 20s going out for roles on the local stage. There’s a spark between the two, and thus begins a May-December romance where the woman, for once, is the elder party.

Bening finds the shattered beauty in Grahame, the tragedy of an ex-star hanging on for dear life to her waning looks and fame that has long since passed her by. There’s a believability in the romance between her and Bell, and Bell plays the role with the right mix of bewilderment and realism.

The film’s centerpiece sequence, impressively staged by director Paul McGuigan (“Lucky Number Slevin”), concerns a revelation and unfolds in dual parts. In New York, Turner is convinced Grahame is out on the town, sneaking around behind his back. We see the scene from his viewpoint, and then we see it from hers, as she learns about the return of her cancer from her doctor. It’s all about context and perspective, and “Film Stars” offers plenty of both, illuminating a story we likely wouldn’t otherwise consider.

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‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’


Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief nudity

Running time: 106 minutes