This week sees the Blu-ray rerelease of Peter Jackson’s fourth New Zealand-based feature Heavenly Creatures (1994), starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. The film is based upon the Hulme-Parker murder case that shocked Christchurch, New Zealand in 1954. Two young girls – Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (Winslet) – become extremely close friends, sharing a love of fantasy and literature to the point of obsession. When both sets of parents become concerned with the intensity of their relationship, they plan to separate the two, leading to the girls plotting to murder Pauline’s mother, Honora (Sarah Peirse).
Jackson co-wrote the film with Fran Walsh, a working relationship that was made famous through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Heavenly Creatures is incredibly well-written with stunning dialogue, some of which is taken from the actual diaries that Pauline kept leading up to the murder. Most of the film was shot on location where the historical events occurred, the only major change being Jackson’s decision to film 100 metres away from the scene of the murder, finding it too eerie to shoot at the precise spot.
The performances from the young Winslet and Lynskey are both incredibly impressive. There is an authentic intensity to Lynksey’s Pauline, whilst Winslet displays all of the acting prowess for which she has become known for today, perfectly portraying the sickly, materialistic and emotionally-deprived Juliet. The special effects of the film’s fantasy sequences may have dated, but this is of little importance. There is a distinct other-worldly quality to Heavenly Creatures that allows for the claymation figures of Pauline’s alternate reality to be clumsy and crude. At the time of its original theatrical release, the film was nominated for a host of prizes including an Academy Award for its script, and went on to win the Silver Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival.
Heavenly Creatures is a rare film that can be watched and re-watched, revealing more and more layers of subtext and meaning with each viewing. This is no simple tale of murder – this is a tale of obsession, friendship, imagination, gender politics, family and much, much more, and is almost certainly Jackson’s finest film to date.