Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - OLLY RICHARDS


DI­REC­TOR Paul Mcguigan

CAST An­nette Ben­ing, Jamie Bell, Vanessa Red­grave, Julie Wal­ters

PLOT Once a Hol­ly­wood star, Glo­ria Gra­hame (Ben­ing) is now do­ing theatre in the UK. When she col­lapses one night, she calls an old flame (Bell) and asks him to take her to his fam­ily home in Liver­pool. As she gets sicker, he re­mem­bers the ro­mance they had that changed both their lives. DE­SPITE ROLES IN It’s A Won­der­ful

Life, The Big Heat and Ok­la­homa!, plus an Os­car on her shelf, Glo­ria Gra­hame’s fame hasn’t en­dured like other stars of her era. She’s more a good an­swer to a quiz ques­tion than a house­hold name these days. Paul Mcguigan’s drama is a fond look at the fi­nal years of Gra­hame’s life, telling the sweet tale of a re­la­tion­ship that lit her up long af­ter her star wattage had faded.

In 1981, aged 57, Gra­hame (Ben­ing) is ek­ing out the last of her celebrity on the stage. She col­lapses be­fore a per­for­mance, which she ex­plains away as “gas”. Gra­hame calls for­mer lover Peter Turner (Bell), a twen­tysome­thing ac­tor in Liver­pool, and asks if she can come to re­cu­per­ate at his fam­ily home. The time­line then splits be­tween scenes of Gra­hame el­e­gantly dy­ing un­der the care of Peter’s in­domitable mother (Wal­ters), and flash­backs to Gra­hame and Turner’s brief but pas­sion­ate ro­mance.

The film grows ever more sen­ti­men­tal, but a de­gree of melo­drama is earned from the off. Mcguigan gives a sense of low-key glam­our to the early scenes. Turner ar­rives on screen lit by the tiny fire­work burst of a cig­a­rette flicked against a wall. A stan­dard Liver­pudlian ter­race is leant some drama by lurid wall­pa­per and strong light through dusty win­dows. It height­ens the or­di­nary and pro­vides the right back­drop for an out-of-the­o­r­di­nary af­fair.

Gra­hame and Turner’s fling be­gins with fran­tic disco-danc­ing over cock­tails and con­tin­ues at a sim­i­lar en­ergy. In just a cou­ple of years to­gether they zip be­tween LA, New York and Liver­pool, chas­ing ad­ven­ture, clutch­ing onto the hon­ey­moon pe­riod. Though they’ve lit­tle in com­mon, they con­vince as a cou­ple gen­uinely in love. The age dif­fer­ence is ob­vi­ously a re­cur­ring fac­tor, but it’s not ham­mered, mainly jab­bing to the sur­face in mo­ments of in­se­cu­rity for Gra­hame, who pal­pa­bly yearns to be young again. They seem so at ease in each other’s pres­ence, at least un­til the truth of Gra­hame’s ill­ness be­gins to en­croach, which is sig­nif­i­cantly down to ter­rific leads.

It’s a gift of a role for Ben­ing, who gets to play the sashay­ing film star, so glam­orous she even drinks milk from a cham­pagne flute, and treats her­self to ef­fec­tively one long death scene. She doesn’t wring it dry but finds poignant de­tails in a woman whose per­sona can tend toward the car­toon­ish. She speaks in a sing-song Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe voice, but it slips when she loses con­trol of her­self. It sug­gests a woman for whom ev­ery minute is per­for­mance, to others and her­self. Bell is her match in a much qui­eter role.

We can see Gra­hame’s death com­ing toward us like a train in a tun­nel and Mcguigan isn’t en­tirely sub­tle when it comes, but a char­ac­ter this big shouldn’t go out qui­etly. She de­serves her mo­ment be­fore the spot­light goes out for­ever.

VER­DICT It’s a classy weepy with some killer di­a­logue, but Ben­ing is the big sell here. Given one of the juici­est roles of her ca­reer, she makes ev­ery mo­ment count.

The na­tional Prosecco short­age hadn’t yet hit Liver­pool.

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