By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Although she is not (yet) an Oscar winner, Annette Bening has not exactly been ignored by the film industry.

After all, she has been Oscar-nominated four times – for her work in Being Julia, American Beauty, The Grifters, and The Kids Are All Right – and made indelible contributions to such films as The American President, Bugsy, and 20th Century Women.

In the curiously titled Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, she gets to portray another real-life screen actress.

 

(2½ stars out of 4)

 

And although the film is rather self-consciously mounted as a Bening showcase for Oscar season, it still represents another feather in her thespian cap.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a biographical drama about Gloria Grahame, portrayed by Bening, an Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress (for her Southern belle in 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful), and focusing on her romance with one Peter Turner, played by Jamie Bell — best known for his title role in Billy Elliott in 2000 – an actor 29 years Grahame’s junior.

At the time, in the late seventies, fading star Grahame, a screen siren, blonde bombshell, and film-noir fixture in the forties and fifties (in such other films as The Big Heat, In a Lonely Place, Crossfire, and It’s a Wonderful Life), was in London, as was Liverpool native Turner, preparing for stage work and dealing with a health crisis.

Grahame would soon become a guest in the Turner family’s row house, with Julie Walters playing Peter’s mother (and Vanessa Redgrave turning up as Grahame’s mother), in the title town, and star-crossed, gender-bent, May-December lovers the two principals would soon become.

Bell holds his own, but this is Bening’s movie. And she’s characteristically splendid.

Not so much doing an impression as capturing Grahame’s spirit, Bening is her usual sure-handed magnetic presence, displaying both Grahame’s capacity for tempestuousness in her four-spouse personal life (with the fourth husband being none other than the son of the second husband) and a touching vulnerability as. in her final years, she battles the unstoppable aging process.

Scottish director Paul McGuigan (The Reckoning, Wicker Park, Lucky Number Slevin, Victor Frankenstein) works from a script by Matt Greenhalgh that’s based on the memoir by Turner. Perhaps inevitably, the film recalls and resembles My Week with Marilyn, which, quality-wise, it’s on a par with.

But when all the other details, achievements, characteristics, and shortcomings of the film have long since faded from the memories of all but the film fanatics, Bening’s accomplished poignancy will remain.

So we’ll act on 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the melancholy romantic biodrama, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the major distinction of which is that the film stars the consummate Annette Bening.

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