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 Pictures, a smaller studio, which put her in film noirs and the musical Oklahoma! before her career ended up focused 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.

Times Series: Photo: PA/Lionsgate FilmsPhoto: PA/Lionsgate Films

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 the love between Peter and Gloria: star-crossed lovers whose difference in culture and status does not impede their ability to fall head over heels for one another, despite how it may be perceived.

Times Series: Photo: PA/Lionsgate FilmsPhoto: PA/Lionsgate Films

McGuigan artfully interposes the unfolding drama with flashbacks of how Gloria and Peter met while renting rooms in Primrose Hill, as characters open doors and walk into their memories, pulling you into the drama in style.

But it is the deepening and fading of their romance which is truly involving. Bening’s portrayal of the starlet is akin to the blonde 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 is what breaks the hearts of those watching; the way something which could be considered a sordid affair is turned into something with real intensity, making 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.