New Zealand, 1994
Director: Peter Jackson
Production: Wingnut Films with Fontana Film Corporation GmbH, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission; color, Super 35 (2:35:1); running time: 99 minutes; original running time in New Zealand and Australia, 108 minutes. Released by Miramax Films; filmed in Christchurch, Victoria Park, and other New Zealand locations. Cost: $10,000,000 (estimated).
Producer: Jim Booth; screenplay: Peter Jackson and Frances Walsh; photography: Alun Bollinger; editor: Jamie Selkirk; art director: Jill Cormack; production designer: Grant Major; music: score by Peter Dasent, with additional music by Giacomo Puccini.
Cast: Melanie Lynskey (Pauline Parker); Kate Winslet (Juliet Hulme); Sara Peirse (Honora Parker); Diana Kent (Hilda Hulme); Clive Merrison (Henry Hulme); Simon O'Connor (Herbert Rieper); Jed Brophy (John/Nicholas); Peter Elliott (Bill Perry); Gilbert Goldie (Dr. Bennett); Geoffrey Heath (Reverend Norris); Kirsti Ferry (Wendy Rieper); Ben Skjellerup (Jonathan Hulme); Darien Takle (Miss Stewart); Elizabeth Waller (Miss Waller); Peter Jackson (bum outside theatre, uncredited).
Awards: Silver Lion Award for outstanding achievement, Venice Film festival, 1994; Critics' Prize for outstanding achievement, Toronto Film Festival, 1994; New Zealand Film Awards for Best Director, Best Actress (Melanie Lynskey), Best Supporting Actress (Sara Peirse), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Performer (Kate Winslet), Best Film Score, Best Editing, and Best Design, 1995.
"Peter Makes His Bid: Dustin Makes a Call," in Onfilm (Auckland), vol. 9, no. 9, 1992.
"Heavenly Creatures a 'Global' Creation," in Onfilm (Auckland), vol., 10, no. 1, 1993.
Wakefield, P., "Heavenly Creatures to Debut at NZ Fests," in Onfilm (Auckland), vol. 11, no. 4, 1994.
Murray, S., "Peter Jackson: Heavenly Creatures," in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), no. 97–98, April 1994.
Feinstein, H., "Death and the Maidens," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 39, 15 November 1994.
Weinraub, Bernard, "Making a Film from the Horror of a Mother's Brutal Murder," in The New York Times, 24 November 1994.
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Jones, A., in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 26, no. 2, 1995.
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Atkinson, Michael, "Earthy Creatures," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 31, no. 3, May-June 1995.
Walsh, Frances, and Peter Jackson, and Tod Lippy, "Heavenly Creatures: Writing and Directing Heavenly Creatures," in Scenario, vol. 1, no. 4, Fall 1995.
Murray, J.C., in Metro Magazine (St. Kilda West), no. 102, 1995.
Henderson, J., "Hose Stalking: Heavenly Creatures as Feminist Horror," in Canadian Journal of Film Studies (Ottawa), vol. 6, no. 1, 1997.
Hardy, A., "Heavenly Creatures and Transcendental Style: A Literal Reading," in Illusions (Wellington), no. 26, Winter 1997.
* * *
Heavenly Creatures is one of a handful of true crime films, a genre more noted for sensationalism than psychological insight, that strives to do more than just recount the events of the crime it dramatizes—in this case, matricide. It grapples with the larger issue of why? and relentlessly probes for the answer with such extraordinary cinematic verisimilitude that, like the most gripping and multi-leveled fiction, it succeeds in making us comprehend the incomprehensible.
The New Zealand case that inspired the film was one of the most sensational in that country's history. In 1954, two teenage girls, Pauline Yvonne Parker and her school chum Juliet Hulme, conspired to murder Pauline's mother, Mrs. Honora Parker. Juliet's parents were divorcing and planned to ship their daughter to South Africa to stay with relatives. Mrs. Parker denied Pauline's impassioned but unrealistic request to accompany Juliet. The threat of impending separation prompted Pauline to launch a plan for removing the perceived obstacle by killing her mother—a plan Juliet willingly agreed to take part in.
During an outing with Mrs. Parker, Pauline and Juliet bludgeoned the woman to death, then claimed she had died from an accidental fall. Suspicion of murder fell on the two girls following the discovery of Pauline's diary. In it, Pauline outlined the murder scheme and chronicled the obsessively close-knit relationship and elaborate fantasy life governing the friends' behavior which sparked the crime. Charged with murdering Mrs. Parker, the girls admitted the crime, and voiced no remorse. They were found guilty and sent to prison, but paroled for good behavior in 1960 on the condition that they never meet again. Forty years later, as a result of the hoopla surrounding Jackson's film about the case, a reporter for a New Zealand newspaper looked into what happened to Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme and found that Parker had changed her name and dropped from sight to lead a life of obscurity presumably "somewhere" in New Zealand. Hulme, on the other hand, had grown up to become Anne Perry, an internationally best selling author of mystery novels set in Victorian England!
Heavenly Creatures (a title derived from a notation in Pauline's diary) by no means turns a blind eye to the frightfulness of the crime the two girls committed, but it is sympathetic in its portrait of them and the reasons for their intense relationship as well as remarkably non-judgmental about it. The movie—which Jackson and co-writer Frances Walsh (the director's wife) based on court records, interviews with people who knew Parker and Hulme at the time, and Parker's diary—portrays the girls not as monstrous bad seeds approaching full growth but, despite their keen intelligence and precociousness, two lonely, socially immature children who found in each other a kindred spirit—and the missing piece in themselves.
The more unbearably intrusive and uncontrollable real life becomes for them, the more the girls seek refuge in their fantasy world where they exercise complete control—as long as they are together.
So that we understand the bizarre fantasy world the girls create for self-protection but which overtakes then horrifyingly engulfs them, Jackson plunges us headlong into that world, mixing reality and illusion (just as the girls do) with every cinematic technique available to explore the girls' inner lives and expose the psychic wounds that lead, with disturbing inexorability, to tragedy. Heavenly Creatures is a must-see for anyone interested in compelling true crime dramas and a masterpiece of its genre.
"Heavenly Creatures." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heavenly-creatures
"Heavenly Creatures." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heavenly-creatures
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