From the mid-1940s to the late-1950s, if you needed a femme fatale or a good time gal, Gloria Grahame was the go-to girl in Hollywood. She appeared in moe than 30 features alongside some of the biggest heart-throbs of the era, including James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra.
But Grahame wasn't just a pretty face: she was a true star, who garnered an Academy Award nomination for Crossfire and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her beguiling performance in The Bad and the Beautiful, in 1952.
But Grahame's name – and fame – soon waned, despite the accolades and comparisons to Marilyn Monroe and Mae West. That could all change with Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, an enchanting, poignant biopic that tells the unlikely true tale of her two-year relationship with an unknown British actor, Peter Turner, in the twilight of her career at the tail-end of her life. In fact, it's such a fanciful yarn it could have been plucked from a Hollywood script, rather than based solely on Turner's memoirs.
"It is a remarkable story, on so many levels," acknowledges Annette Bening, who stars as the screen siren. "She'd lived the Hollywood life, with the big house and multiple marriages to famous men, but then she fell from grace and found herself alone, struggling to get work, so took any [acting] job she could get. Then she met Peter, this regular guy from Liverpool when she was doing a play at a small theatre in North London and they just clicked.
"I can understand why, because when you meet Peter it all makes sense," she adds, smiling. "He's just a beautiful man: he's very sweet, gentle and genuine. He's the kind of person who will fall in love with you, and you with him."
Despite Bening's assertions, their relationship was still an unlikely one - especially given their significant age difference (Grahame was 55 and Turner 26, some 29 years younger than her) when they met. It was a relationship that certainly raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood.
"She was very conscious of the fact that she was much older than Peter and felt vulnerable that he could be with a younger woman, but nonetheless I think that what ended up happening between them was very, very significant. It wasn't trivial," asserts Bening.
"When I met Peter, I got the impression that Gloria had never had a relationship with a man like him. Sure, she'd been with some really interesting, smart and funny guys but Peter was different. He's just a really nice guy who adored her in a way I suspect nobody had, before that."
That adoration and passion is brilliantly - and believably - portrayed by Bening and Jamie Bell, who stars as Turner. Together, they ooze sizzling, onscreen chemistry which has deservedly earned them Bafta and Academy Award nominations in the lead acting categories.
"To have that sort of chemistry, you have to really trust the person you're in the scene with and feel supported by them. I immediately felt that with Annette," reveals Bell, smiling fondly at his co-star, sitting alongside him. "We also did a lot of work with the script, just charting the trajectory of the relationship and navigating the emotions they'd go through in every scene, to make it realistic."
One such realistic, pivotal scene is when Bell spies Bening listening to music in her bedsit, joins her for a drink and ends up dancing with her all afternoon. It's an exhilarating, euphoric exchange, which kick-starts their relationship. From that moment on they're inseparable.
"Oh my God, that was so much fun," reveals Bening, smiling joyously. "We did about three or four takes but we could have danced all day because we were enjoying it so much. Jamie threw in some John Travolta moves too, which were brilliant!
"Although it was a lot of fun, I think that scene is very important in the movie," adds Bening, seriously. "It not only encapsulates their relationship, it also shows what was happening to her at the time – she was this star, who'd won an Oscar, but now she's forced to do anything she can to make a living and support her kids, whether it's theatre, cheesy parts on TV or horror films.
"I get that because I know people who have gone through similar things as her. Luckily, I haven't – I've always managed to find something, to keep going," she continues, sighing involuntarily. "It's tough out there, especially if you're an older woman in this industry. So, I can relate to what she went through and understand and respect her decision to do whatever work she had to, just to survive.
"It's the same with her relationship with Peter," insists Bening. "It may seem unbelievable from the outside, but it's obvious that what they shared was very special and very real. You know, there are certain relationships, with certain people, that always stay with you. Some people – some relationships - just affect you more than others do. I think that's what Gloria and Peter had and that's what I relate to and love about this story."
Who: Annette Bening and Jamie Bell
What: Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
When: In cinemas next Thursday