Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994)

A while back Bookaroundthecorner left a comment on one of my posts mentioning that the author of Victorian detective novels, Anne Perry, had committed a murder when she was a young girl. I had never heard of this before and a google search soon led me to more details and to Heavenly Creatures by Peter Jackson entirely based on this story.

I watched it recently and must say it was an utterly disturbing movie. I’m not giving away too much when I tell you what actually happened as it also written on the DVD covers and descriptions of the movie and many people know it anyway. Pauline Parker (Melanie Lysnkey) and Juliet Henry Hulme (Kate Winslet) met in New Zealand in the 50s. The unlikely couple formed a friendship that soon became an obsession, they lived in dream worlds, made up stories and were completely dependent on each other. Juliet (the future Anne Perry) had a very fragile health, a reason why her parents often chose to send her away. The marriage of Juliet’s parents is not working and they want to get a divorce. They decide to send Juliet to South Africa. The girls hope that Pauline will be allowed to come with her but Pauline’s mother is against it. She doesn’t approve of their friendship, correctly senses how unwholesome it is. That’s when the tragedy unfolds. Pauline who hates and despises her mother develops a plan that should allow them to stay together forever. In minute details she plans the murder of her own mother.

The brutality with which they execute their plan is quite a shocker. I still see the pictures in my mind.

They get caught because Pauline carelessly writes down everything in a diary. Both are sentenced but are left out of the correctional institution after two years. There is a condition however; they are not allowed to see each other again.

It wouldn’t be a Peter Jackson movie without any fantastic elements. He chose to show the fantasies of the girls, their dream world. I think I would have opted for a more sober way.

The two actresses are very good, they manage to convey the folly of the two girls brilliantly.

I found the movie to be disturbing for many reasons. Not only because they kill Pauline’s mother, which is quite horrible in itself, but also because I was wondering how you could go on living with a murder like this on your conscience and on top of that being separated from the most important person in your life. I would be interested to know how Pauline dealt with this. I did pity these two deluded girls.

As I said before, this is a highly disturbing movie but one that will keep you thinking for a long time. Also about the narrative technique chosen by Peter Jackson. What kind of movie would this have been, done by another director?

Last but not least, doesn’t it strike you as  highly uncanny to know that someone who committed such a brutal murder makes a living writing murder mysteries. Is this a means to come to terms with the past?

29 thoughts on “Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994)

  1. This is without a doubt one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, it crept into my mind and when I first watched it, I thought about it for days afterwards. I’ve never read any Anne Perry books, but I did google the story after I watched this film many years ago and learned that bit of trivia.

    • Thanks for your comment, Amy. I was actually wondering for quite a while if I was overreacting but I didn’t know anybody who had seen it as well. I couldn’t get the end out my mind. I think I read one novel by Anne Perry a long time ago. At the time I didn’t know anything about this.

  2. I saw the trailer ealier in the afternoon but couldn’t find time to read your post till tonight.

    What makes me wondering while reading your review is the title, you said the movie is disturbing but the title is heavenly creature…hmm so contradictive.

    Your review reminds me of Disco Pigs ( here’s the link if you’d like to read it http://t.co/yY3na8Y , but it wasn’t a good review, I will re-review it one day)

    • It’s a reference to their dream world. They also think that they are far better than anyone else. I don’t know Disco Pigs, is it aslo a true story? I wonder how the girl whose mothe was murdered went on living… The way how they planned and executed it is very disturbing.

      • I see…I am curious with the movie but it might ends up like the way I feel toward Disco Pigs, a lot of people like it but not me. DP is not a true story but after reading your post, I think maybe the writer was inspired by it because it also ends up with killing someone.

        What suprises me is…they only served 2 years for killing her mother! As you said the girls are deluded, so they probably don’t feel a thing by killing her.

        • It was in the 50s and they were only 15. When you are under age you are not sentenced the same. They were deluded at the time, being together triggered it. I think that they “woke up” after that and I dare say that wasn’t a nice waking up. That is why I do feel sorry for them even if it sounds odd.

        • If you have a look at the link Guy added, it states that Pauline was in prison for 6 years. Maybe Juliet only served 2 years (if I’m not wrong) because she was younger and she “only” helped. She didn’t plan it.

  3. I saw this a few years ago and enjoyed it very much. Apart from the fact it is a great film, I also found it intriguing for the presentation of the relationship which led to murder. It was one of those instances where a toxic element was created in the relationship, and murder would not have taken place without it. Some people murder and don’t need an accomplice, and some murder teams are drawn together for an extra thrill. In this case, the combination of these two girls triggered an evil response. Separately they would not have murdered, and separated, they were not dangerous. Together, however, well there you have it….

    Makes me think of Leopold and Loeb.

  4. Thanks for the link and for the review. I didn’t know the story was made into a film. It was so like a crime fiction novel that it struck me. Now I really want to see the film.
    I have read lots of Perry’s novel in what I call my “no-life-besides-working-and-pampering” period. Easy crime fiction was about the only thing I could read. I used to collapse on the couch at 9pm everyday and had no time or strentgh to read challenging stuff. I enjoy the description of the life in Victorian salons, their hypocrisy, and the description of social rules and social classes.

    • That’s actually funny because I wouldn’t have found the movie if you hadn’t said that about Anne Perry. What period was that, when the kids were babies? I did read one of her novels and although I perfer the real Victorian novels, I think I enjoyed it. The gaslight atmosphere… I am amazed that she chose to write crime novels… It doesn’t say anthing about the murder on her website. Do you know what happened to the other girl? In the movie she was the one who wrote much more. Juliet was more imaginative but Pauline wrote. Anyway, I am thankful you mentioned it as it gave me a lot to think about.

      • Yes it was when the children were younger.

        I like her two Victorian series but I think my favourite one is the one with Monk, the former policeman who has lost his memory.

        I don’t know what happened to the other girl.

        • I hear that is a challenging period. Most women at work with little children don’t read at all. I think I will read one or the other of the Victorian ones. I don’t know the other series you mention at all.

  5. In some ways, it reminded me of the 1986 film River’s Edge. Both featured teens who failed to integrate into society, committed murder, and failed to see the moral implications of the act. Heavenly Creatures, while not so grisly, may have been the more disturbing one, in that both girls were quite literate, whereas the the other film (also based on a true story) the kids were basically drop-outs.

    • Interesting, I don’t know that movie, will have to look it up. What was so disturbing was the whole way they orgaized it and the way they chose to kill her. I don’t want to be too explicit as it would be too much of a spoiler. That those two girls met at this particular time made for an explosive mix. What was also uncanny was that in a certain way they were meant for each other and it saddened me to think that what they feared most, namely to be separated, was exactly what happened.

  6. I knew that Anne Perry had aided in the murder of her friend’s mother, but I had no idea of the details or that there was a movie made about it (I’ve added it to my Netflix queue and will get it next week). I wonder what Perry thinks about having a movie of her life made–I’ve never heard her talk about it and always assumed it was a hush hush sort of situation, but then how do you possibly cover something like that up–or at least try and go beyond it with your life now. And it is a little wild she writes murder mysteries–her characters are quite sympathetic, too. I’ve read quite a few of the Thomas Pitt novels and a few of the Monk ones (I want to start over and reread the Monk novels), but none of the WWI books. I also wonder what happened to the other girl.

    • I was thinking the same… her writing muder mysteries with that past and I do also remember the one I read to be rather on the cheerful side, not dark and gloomy. I don’t think she wants to talk about it, it is definitely not mentioned on her website. Kate Winslet is astonishing in this movie. I must honestly say I was never sure how good an actress she really is but she convinced me with this one (and Little Children). I would also be curious to know if Anne Perry ever watched Heavenly Creatures. The link Guy added gives a great deal of information about the murder and the whereabouts of Pauline.

  7. Like Danielle, I’m intrigued by the thought that Anne Perry had helped commit a murder and is now writing crime fiction! That does seem incredibly… I don’t know what the word would be, something that conveyed the curiousness of the situation and its potential to be both healing and disturbing! Sue Grafton said she began writing novels because she kept dreaming about how to kill her ex-husband, but she wrote it all out instead because she was sure she’d bungle it in real life and get caught. That seems quite reasonable to me!

    • It is very puzzling although that is not a good word either. Her identity was apparently only found out through the movie. Before that no one knew that Juliet and Anne were identical. Makes sense what you say abot Sue Grafton, Kinsey Milhone does have problems with her ex as well. Certainly a healthier way… I wonder how many people do write crime stories instead of becoming murderers… Scary.

  8. It has been years since I’ve seen the film, think it was on the telly one night, but it is one that sticks with you. I liked it *because* it was disturbing. The disconnect between the girls’ fantasy world & their reality was so jarring that I found it worked well.

    • I know exactly what you mean. I did like it, but maybe I wasn’t explicit. It’s an amazing story and I really wonder how you get over something like this. Amazing also that Peter Jackson or anyone else knew that Juliet and Anne Perry are the same person.

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  10. Pingback: Anne Perry – Interiors (2009) A Documentary « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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