Liverpool UK 1981, “Peter Turner” (Jamie Bell) a jobbing theatre actor gets a telephone call. A faded real life movie star “Gloria Grahame” (Annette Bening) is sick and needs his help, can she come and stay in Liverpool with his family for a while to recuperate?
This unlikely premise takes the audience headlong into a previous relationship between the two leading actors, in both senses. Actors playing actors, with Grahame’s return to “treading the boards” interrupted by an illness forcing her to cancel her performance.
The film then jumps to earlier when the couple first met in London and how their relationship at the time blossomed.
This is a melancholy film but anchored by two terrific performances from both Bening and Bell which turns the tables on the usual screen stereotype. Defying convention, a more mature woman in a physical relationship with a younger man.
The film is helped by sterling support from British national treasure Julie Walters as Peter’s mum, his long suffering dad Kenneth Cranham and his screen brother Stephen Graham.
The film jumps about in timelines and when “travelling abroad” for flashback sequences the director makes no real attempt at depicting reality. Almost dreamlike or deliberately designed to look like a movie set, it helps the story to create the atmosphere in which these two unlikely characters could fall in love, despite the challenges between them.
To reveal too much plot would ruin the story but the film takes interesting turns as the viewpoint shifts from one character to another. Moving the audience from dislike to understanding as the tale progresses.
The story is slight yet loaded with pathos and meaning, arguably more so for an older audience demographic. The relationship needs to feel real for this to work and both actors commit to the role, Bell doing well against his more experienced and better known lead.
A well played and touching scene later in the film involves a Shakespearean part Grahame always wanted to play. This largely avoids the inherent sentimentality and manages to encapsulate the well judged tone of the entire film.
Based on the real life memoir of Peter Turner and his passionate yet playful relationship with Gloria Grahame, a famous film actress from the black and white era. Grahame winning an Oscar in 1952 for her work in the “Bad and The Beautiful”.
Whilst the subject matter is somewhat downbeat there is a feeling of hope and life about this “May to September” relationship. With realistic human emotions albeit with an ending somewhat predetermined, director Paul McGuigan manages to find the humanity in both characters.
A movie that failed at the box office, which is a shame as it deserves to be seen by a wider albeit more sympathetic audience.
With not a robot or superhero in sight, this will not be for everyone but if you like a good story told by great actors, this is well worth a couple of hours of your life.