Heavenly Creatures, released in 1994, is the breakthrough film of award-winning director and screenwriter Peter Jackson and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He is best known for his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Actress Kate Winslet, noted for her role as Rose in Titanic, made her screen debut in this riveting drama based on the real-life events encompassing the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand.
When 13-year-old Juliet Hulme (Winslet) moves to New Zealand she quickly befriends a rather glum fellow classmate Pauline Parker (played by Melanie Lynskey). The girls share many of the same interests and tastes in music, art, and literature. They both demonstrate, however, an emotional vulnerability. The friends escape their tedious life by creating an intricate fantasy world named Borovnia which they accomplish through writing detailed stories that they in turn act out. The more they withdraw into this fantasy world the more it becomes their reality. Over time their friendship intensifies into a destructive and disturbing obsession. During this period Pauline’s relationship with her mother progressively deteriorates and grows extremely contentious. She begins spending most of her time at the Hulme’s residence.
When Juliet’s parents announce they are separating and plan to leave New Zealand, the girls are devastated by their impending separation. They are determined to find a way to run away together but ultimately conclude that Pauline’s mother is an obstacle in implementing their plan. Finding the situation intolerable, Pauline devises a scheme to murder her mother and elicits Juliet’s willing help in carrying out the gruesome crime.
Winslet and Lynskey are excellent in their portrayals, particularly Lynskey with her sulking glower. The film steers clear of the trial and the sensationalism surrounding the case. Instead it focuses on the psychological element of the fateful friendship, providing a more sympathetic interpretation of the events. Jackson creates a gripping drama using highly artistic and powerful fantasy scenes where the viewer is allowed to see beyond the surface and observe Juliet and Pauline in the context of their imaginary yet lethal world.
As a side note of interest, shortly after the release of this film it was discovered that Anne Perry, bestselling author of historical detective fiction, is in real life Juliet Hulme. If watching Heavenly Creatures rouses your curiosity further about this case then check out a copy of the book Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham.