by Roderick Conway Morris

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A murder story about love, a murder story with no villains.'

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 14 October 1994


Heavenly Creatures

Directed by Peter Jackson. New Zealand.

Described by its 33-year-old director as 'a murder story about love, a murder story with no villains,' this film is based on a notorious case that occurred in New Zealand in the '50s. It relates the unfolding of a passionate friendship between two schoolgirls and their final decision, when faced with permanent separation, to kill one of their mothers. Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) appears a rather dull and dowdy individual until Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet), an attractive, sharp, precociously sophisticated (but, in reality, vulnerable) English girl arrives in the same classroom (her well-to-do parents having just moved to Christchurch). Though seemingly wildly different, both are highly creative misfits and find an instant rapport. Together they invent a mythical medieval kingdom, Borovnia, about which they write a series of novels, and resolve to run away to Hollywood to become famous scriptwriters. Peter Jackson has confessed to having had profound misgivings about making 'Heavenly Creatures,' since both main protagonists and many others involved are still alive, but decided to go ahead when it became clear that other, sensationalized treatments were about to be shot. Happily, in this meticulously researched version, which makes dexterous use of Pauline's and Juliet's diaries, letters and novels, the psychological complexities of the story are treated with an intelligence, subtlety and delicacy seldom witnessed on the screen. The giddy exuberance of the girls' friendship and the hectic blossoming of their artistic talents in a rigid, class- and convention-bound society are masterfully captured, and both Lynskey and Winslet give mesmerizing performances. And, though the denouement is tragic, there are many amusing, even hilarious moments, in a film rare for its depth and humanity.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023