When we first glance the Hollywood film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) the year is 1981 and her movie career has been well and truly over for a couple of decades. Wth her finances well drained she has had to resorted to taking any acting jobs wherever she can, and is currently appearing in ‘The Glass Menagerie in a theater in Lancaster a provincial town in the North of England. However when she is just about to go on stage she collapses in her Dressing Room.
When she comes too, Gloria asks that they contact Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) a young Brit actor who she had a brief affair that ended badly two years prior. He is literally the only person that Gloria knows in the country and she pleads with him to take her back to his parents modest row house in Liverpool to recuperate from what she claims is just a bad case of ‘ stomach gas’.
Both Peter and his parents (played by Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) soon spot that Gloria is much sicker than she claims, and are not shocked when they discover that she had been previously diagnosed with cancer.
The story flashes back and forth from the time that Peter and Gloria were both living in the same London boarding house and had met and started this unlikely but very happy love affair, to the present time when the illness has brought them close again. After four failed marriages Gloria had embarked on this passionate affair wth a man less than half her age, that had only fallen apart when her secrecy about her illness had become a trust issue as she disappeared for days seeking medical treatment.
This real life story, which is really in two parts, gives Bening a wonderful opportunity to portray an intriguing and fascinating femme fatale type figure which she excels at, before she has to resort to playing this melodramatic bed-ridden dying figure. It is the perfect role for her and she imbues her compelling performance with such compassion and authenticity that makes her such a sheer joy to watch right to the very last frame. The surprising element is the electrifying chemistry between the two lead actors, and his beautifully nuanced performance makes one really appreciate how extraordinarily talented that Bell is.
Directed by Paul McGuigan from a script by Matt Greenhalgh based on Peter Turner’s own memoir this vastly entertaining movie doesn’t just address the question about whatever happened to Oscar Winner Grahame , but it gives a really neat view of life in 1980’s Britain.
P.S. It was actually very surprising to discover that the Production Designer Eve Stewart was British too, as we have never seen a normally cramped blue-collar row house have such big rooms : guess that’s what is called the magic of the movies.