Subhash K Jha
Nothing in this enchanting, moving, edifying tale of tragic love prepares us for the heartbreak that we collectively suffer at the end, when former film star Gloria Grahame now a faded, dying wisp of a woman says her final goodbye to Peter Turner, her lover, confidante and emotional anchor in her dying days.
I swear I heard something break inside me. It's ironic that there are many ironic references to "Romeo and Juliet" in this tender yet cocky tale of forbidden love between a 57-year old has-been femme-fatale and her besotted 27-year-old lover who incidentally at one point while they gaze romantically at a sunset on the beach (I kid you not, that's how schmaltzy the romance threatens to get), confesses he has befriended both boys and girls romantically.
This is late 1970s and no one says the "b" word (bisexual) out loud. Gloria isn't scandalised. She coolly smiles and smoulders into his ears: "That's fine. I've also been with girls and boys." So if you get the impression that is a film about an ill-matched bohemian couple indulging in a scandalous affair, then banish the thought. "Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool" (at least the one in this film doesn't) is a deeply tragic tale of star-crossed love, almost like a "Romeo and Juliet" whose Juliet is, in the words of Liverpool's Romeo old enough to play Juliet's nurse.
If you are looking for a film about a fading femme-fatale fornicating with her toy-boy then this is neither the time nor place. The "f" word here is not what you think. It's "family". As Gloria begins her journey into the final fade-out, she expresses the dying wish to join Peter's family in Liverpool for a spot of farewell sunshine before she leaves for the other world, who knows how cold it would be there??
It's astonishing to see the control that the director Paul McGuigan exercises over the overtly sentimental drama creating a language that is at once lyrical and whimsical. Both Bening and Bell are outstanding in portraying a love beyond boundaries of age and sex (sex,as in intercourse). Bening takes over the biographical character at times almost mimicking Gloria Grahame lisping narcissism to drive Peter away before he gets to know the truth about her mortality.
I'd say Bening and Bell have created a tragic romance of forbidden love with as much flawless candour as Armie Hammer and Timothy Chalamet in "Call Me By Your Name". The other remarkable performance in "Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool" comes from the legendary Julie Walters as Bell's harassed yet relentlessly compassionate mother who supports her son's romantic fervor to the end creating a warm and comforting space in her home for her son's beloved who is old enough to be his mother.
Oh yes, the legendary Vanessa Redgrave shows up for a cameo appearance as Gloria Grahame's feisty mother who pleads with her daughter's lover: "Please don't marry my daughter even if she begs you to." Into the God's ears and so on. Don't miss this film about the perks of providence that include an affair with a legendary star (whom you don't know to be legendary star) and a chance to dance the boogie-woogie with a woman old enough to be Juliet's Nurse? No no. Juliet.