The story of Hollywood starlet Gloria Grahame is little known. She rose to meteoric fame in films such as It's a Wonderful Life before MGM lost confidence in her, and her contract was sold to RKO Films, a smaller studio, which put her in film noirs and the musical Oklahoma! before her career ended up in smaller theatrical work.

But the most tragic and truly intriguing part of her life is that which is documented in Paul McGuigan's new film, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, starring Annette Bening as Grahame and Jamie Bell.

The film, set in 1981, opens with Gloria attempting to savour her final performing years in a Tennessee Williams play on the stage in Lincoln. But a mystery illness stops her in her tracks, and the only place she wants to be is with Peter, a young man from Liverpool who seems incredibly anxious and almost fearful of seeing her.

Gloria moves into a bedroom in his house and is cagey with the details of her affliction: Peter and his family, his mother played by Julie Walters, are trying to treat and aid their fading Hollywood guest with little knowledge of what is plaguing her.

The heart of the film comes in their love: star-crossed lovers whose difference in culture and status does not impede their ability to fall head over heels in love, despite how it may be perceived.

McGuigan artfully interposes the unfolding drama with flashbacks of how Gloria and Peter met while renting rooms in Primrose Hill, and how their romance deepened and faded, much like Gloria's own career. Characters open doors and walk into their memories in the way these are portrayed, pulling you into the drama in style.

But it is the relationship at the centre which is truly involving. Bening's portrayal of the starlet is akin to the blond bombshells of that era, with a lilting vocal that leaves Marilyn Monroe ringing in your ears. And Bell is earthy and authentic in his portrayal of Peter: a man who is deeply in love with a woman older, more successful and seemingly far from his grasp. But their dependence on one another and how something which could be considered a sordid affair is turned into something with real intensity, is what breaks the hearts of those watching and makes it impossible to turn away.

The film beautifully chronicles a turbulent, but overwhelming love of Juliet and her Romeo, as the shadow of illness and heartbreak comes looming. 4 stars