LFF 2017: Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are outstanding in this captivating celebration of Gloria Grahame
Although she was an Oscar-winner (for Vincente Minnelli's 1952 scorcher The Bad and the Beautiful) and had made her mark from It's a Wonderful Life to Oklahoma! Gloria Grahame's star had well and truly waned by the early 1980s, with her final years spent treading the boards in provincial British theatres.
She was in humble digs in London when the much younger, aspiring actor Peter Turner, a fellow lodger, became entranced by her without knowing who she was (or had been). As Grahame and Turner, Annette Bening and Jamie Bell – both of them outstanding – bring the story of their affair all the right notes of lust, tenderness, vulnerability and tempestuousness. Plus, they are hot. Even if you know how it was fated to end, it's a captivating journey, from the fun of their first days to the touching postscript.
Turner's memoir of his time with Grahame has taken decades to reach the screen. But it has been sensitively adapted with evident love from all on board: from Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, who knew Grahame and Turner when they were together; to Bening, who has waited 20 years to play Grahame and does so luminously, with seductive vivacity, wistfulness and defiance.
Screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh is adept with true-life tales (Control, Nowhere Boy). And that director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein, Sherlock) has a background as a photographer and documentarian shows in crafty composition and meticulous details. There is a wonderfully fluid, dreamlike trick to transitioning from the 'present' to flashbacks; Turner walking out of a scene and into the past of his memory. McGuigan uses back-projection (most obviously and quite beautifully in a beach scene) that evokes Grahame's cinematic era and references heightened moments from her glory days (specifically In a Lonely Place, opposite Humphrey Bogart).
The film also has an ensemble to die for, with Kenneth Cranham, Julie Walters and Stephen Graham as Peter's colourful family back home in Liverpool, with whom Gloria finds sanctuary. And one scene of Gloria and Peter having dinner with her mother and sister (Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber) is very telling and quite priceless. All in all, it's a lovely celebration of a unique woman. May the Gloria Grahame rediscovery commence!
Screening on Wed 11, Thu 12 and Sun 15 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 17 Nov.