BIG on nostalgia – reuniting Julie Walters, Jamie Bell, brick lanes and hideous geometric wallpaper from Billy Elliott for starters- director Paul McGuigan makes sure his fairytale is well earthed.The couple meet in a London boarding house when young Peter is enticed by the fiftysomething’s acting warm-up routine.
His landlady explains who the actress was: "Gloria Grahame? Always played the tart in black and white films. Not so good in colour, obviously".
When Peter agrees to partner her in her room as she tries out Saturday Night Fever dance of the moment – the Hustle - the scene, with the camera spinning around Bell and Bening’s naturally synchronised sexy moves, is the perfect shorthand for the way this odd couple’s romance clicks.
There’s some knowing comedy for us when a trip to a bar for two pints costs “90 pence mate” – making the audience laugh. Also we do when the couple witness the scene in Alien where the beast springs out of John Hurt’s chest, a bit like the powerful passion both our odd couple feel pulling them together. And when the barman recognises Gloria as the big-time actress who “… won an Oscar, if memory serves", Peter becomes more smitten having watched one of her classic movies which brings the smouldering young Gloria to monochrome life.
Gloria's sensitivity over her age appears when she casually mentions to Peter that she’d like to play Shakespeare’s Juliet - and he wincingly jokes the role of the nurse would surely be more appropriate.
And Gloria's youthful view of herself and love is highighted again in an ugly way on the couple's trip to her beach-front trailer home in the US. Gloria’s jealous sister Joy (a waspish Frances Barber) deliberately mentions in front of Peter that Gloria’s fourth husband was her young stepson.
McGuigan occasionally takes shortcuts with the odd cinema trick. So Peter closes a door in Liverpool, only for us to see him open it a second later in America and vice versa. There's also fun with flashbacks and shifting us back or forward in time to contrast or almost duplicate significant moments - or track Gloria's failing health.
Bell is good at portraying Peter’s pain and also his unquestioning support when Gloria's vulnerability surfaces.
"How do I look?” she asks him at their final meeting, every inch the film star.
“You look beautiful!” he re-echoes from an earlier, happier scene.
Recalling acting with Humphrey Bogart, Gloria repeats to Peter the legend's advice: “Just keep it in the shadows, Gloria. Let the camera come to you!”
Bell and Bening’s subtle performances do just that and secure the truth and charm of this bittersweet real-life romance. MC
Gloria: If I make you a drink will you come into my room and Hustle with me – I need a dance partner?
Peter: If you fix me a drink I’ll clean your bathroom!
Quick review: An unlikely romance blossoms in 1970s London between a fading Oscar-winning Hollywood star and a young Liverpool actor. Pulled apart by their age difference and bad timing, there’s one last poignant get-together in this true story.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool returns to Eden Court from December 29 to January 4.