“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —

It gives a lovely light!”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

We first saw Gloria Grahame in the iconic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” playing Violet, a young girl who had loved George” (James Stewart) since he was a boy.


She stole each scene she was in. It was a small part, but she owned it.

Gloria always glowed and simmered. On screen she was like smoke from a cigarette left in a crystal ashtray, fog coming in from the harbor. Look at her films; look at the way her eyes always narrowed, as if she were looking for something in her co-stars eyes.

In every role she stood out. That’s what a star is, the actor that draws the light from brighter sources. That was Gloria Grahame, and I miss her.

Annette Bening, playing Gloria in Paul McGuigan’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” a film about the last days of Gloria’s life as she was dying in England, has none of those qualities, none of the fog nor smoky sensuality.

Annette gives us something much different. She gives us a splendid, crackling interpretation of a dying star, bowing out of life with courage. She does that.

This was who Gloria was, Bening seems to be saying, a creature of her time, and this is how she made it work, and when fate dealt her a hard back of the hand and showed her the door, this was how she made her exit, in a fabulous camel coat and sunglasses, and still she gave such a “lovely light.”


Annette, using her own unique gifts, shows us, in this tribute, and that’s what it is, that a star’s exits are often more powerful and memorable than their entrances.

Had it not been for a love affair at the end of her life with a much younger man in Liverpool, England, and the book about that affair written by her lover, Peter Turner, in his 1986 book, Gloria Grahame-film star, might have remained lost and forgotten in the three color past of old movie magazines.

At the opening we watch Gloria making up prior to going on stage in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in a small theater in the cold, damp North of England. Suddenly she collapses in pain and can’t go on.

Director Paul McGuigan, working with a script by Matt Greenhalgh, cleverly cuts back and forth in time, from when Gloria, over 50 years old, meets and begins a haunted and troubled relationship with Peter Turner, (Jamie Bell) a Liverpool neighborhood boy in his 20s.

For Peter, Gloria is warmth and mystery and has stories, unlike Liverpool corner girls.

For Gloria, Peter is a flashback of her early years, when things were full of magic and madness, full of neon nights and blazing sun mornings.


She does not tell him that she has cancer. He sees the scar on her breast, but lets it go by. This is all about a May November love. Peter’s past is almost a blank page, Gloria’s is dark and sexual, all Hollywoodian and unreadable.

They live in the present, and that’s enough. It will get darker for them and full of pain. The end scenes are tough to watch, but Annette scoops them up and gives an Oscar performance. Don’t miss it.

Jamie Bell is best know for his wonderful debut role in Billy Elliot (2000), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

His work here is soft, engaging and heartfelt. He reminds us very much of the young Albert Finney in Karel Reisz’s 1960 British film “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.”

Paul McGuigan’s direction is pretty much standard stuff, but for one scene near the end, when Bening, full of death, sits in a pool of fading afternoon light in her room, listening to the family below talk about what to do with her.

Her face, her eyes, her expression in this heart ripping moment is unbearable. Lesser actors have gotten golden statues for doing nothing. Somebody send Annette a God damn statue.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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