Jamie Bell and Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

★★★ (out of four)
STARS Annette Bening, Jamie Bell

One good acting turn deserves another, and that’s what viewers receive with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a compact drama that allows Annette Bening to portray fellow thespian Gloria Grahame. And if Bening never quite convinces us that she is Grahame, that’s hardly her fault – Grahame was a singularly unique individual, and it would be hard for anyone to completely pull off the illusion.

An Academy Award winner for her supporting turn in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Grahame also appeared in such gems as It’s a Wonderful LifeThe Big Heat (where Lee Marvin scalds her character’s face with lava-like coffee), Oklahoma! and, best of all, In a Lonely Place, where she found a worthy screen partner in Humphrey Bogart. Grahame’s career at the top was relatively short, soon damaged by professional conflicts and personal scandals. After a terrifying bout with breast cancer later in her life, the actress retreated to England, where she enjoyed a romance with a much younger man named Peter Turner.

Turner’s memoir of the same name serves as the basis for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, with the story focused exclusively on Grahame’s relationship with the young lad (played by Jamie Bell). It’s all here, from the first dates (including a trip to the local theater to catch a new horror flick called Alien) to the final clinches, shortly before Grahame succumbs to the cancer that she had earlier eluded. The movie charts their courtships, their quarrels (she bristles whenever he jokes about her age), and the calamities that initially separate and ultimately reunite them. It’s a love story that’s told with respect and restraint, and when footage of the real Grahame collecting her Oscar is shown, her four-word acceptance speech might as well be directed at Liverpool director Paul McGuigan and scripter Matt Greenhalgh: “Thank you very much.”

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