‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’: The Journey From Page to Screen

Gloria Grahame/Photo © Wikipedia

It’s not necessarily a pleasant experience to have one’s book turned into a film and I don’t think it’s something an author can easily prepare for, as every individual experience must inevitably be very different depending on the key people involved – producer, screenwriter, director, star – and not to mention the hundreds of other film making specialists who will come to be involved as the project evolves. Also, the signing of an agreement doesn’t guarantee that one will be impressed by the final result. P. L. Travers hated ‘Mary Poppins’, Ruma Godden thought ‘Black Narcissus’ an abomination, and Stephen King described the film of his book The Shining to be “like a big beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside.”

My memoir Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, when first published in 1986, attracted exciting interests from the film world. My literary agent, the late Deborah Rogers, gave me some worldly advice, “Please don’t get carried away by the film world. It can go awfully wrong. Just continue to write.”

Her words still ring in my ears as, from book to screen, four producers, seven screenplays, and three directors later, mine was a journey down a long and very winding road.

The book was first optioned by a Hollywood studio in 1986, but when the studio head was ousted and a new one put in place, the project was dropped. It was then taken up by a British production company who were at the point of having it made but, at the last minute, the project went into free-fall and interest in it waned.

It was only when the James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli rescued the project from oblivion that things started to look up. Her vision and passion revitalised my enthusiasm towards a film being made but even so, nothing could prepare for the challenges ahead. The film industry was uncertain, financing was hard to get, and it was clear we would need to attract the interest from a Hollywood star to play the central character of Gloria Grahame.

Many years went by before the miracle happened.

Annette Bening bumped into Barbara at a film event. She’d read my book twenty years earlier and was interested in reading a script. Suddenly all systems were go. Colin Vaines joined Barbara as producer and Matt Greenhalgh was commissioned to write a new script. Annette Bening read it and liked it, and she agreed to star in the film.

It took a further two years to place a director. In 2014 Paul McGuigan decided it was a film for him. Yet there were more obstacles and challenges. Schedules and availabilities were tricky to match, finances wobbled, and, once again, to me, it seemed it might all fall apart.

But Hollywood threw in a happy ending.

‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’, starring Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, and Vanessa Redgrave, went into production in June 2016 and is scheduled for release in the autumn of 2017.

I’ve now seen an early cut of the film, which I liked, and am looking forward to seeing the final result.

Has there been much heartache along the way? Oh yes. I’ve most certainly had to learn to be patient, philosophical, and to try to practice being detached. There are some differences with the film from the book but, surprisingly, not many. It’s the same story but told in a different medium – a film is a film and a book is a book and that’s it. I’ve also had fun and wonderful times. Being invited onto the set at Pinewood was overwhelming, and I was so very impressed by the entire film crew and their incredible work.

Now that the film is beginning to get publicity, interest in reading Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has undoubtedly increased and at the end of the day Barbara Broccoli has delivered the film of my book that she first promised me she’d make. It doesn’t get any better than that.