Reviewbr> “It’s mummy, she’s terribly hurt.” – Pauline
Pauline Yvonne Parker is a slightly frumpy fourteen year old at Christchurch Girls School. You know the sort, she has friends but is pretty emo and self centered, lacking the confidence to go beyond her station in life. Possibly not helped by her working class parents and the never ending horde of borders the Parkers take in to help ends meet. Enter Juliet Marion Hume, a chic well-travelled girl who has enough poise and grace for both girls. When Juliet discovers Pauline has a damaged leg, due to some unnamed medical condition and various operations the two become fast friends as Juliet suffers from tuberculises on one lung and is just recently returned from a stint in the West Indies recuperating from her illness.
What develops is a friendship of the “outsiders”, two girls who believe they are superior to their classmates. Things quickly evolve into a fantasy world and the relationship heads into the pit of the Lesbos pretty quickly. Considering this is early 1950s Christchurch that sort of thing is frowned upon with both sets of parents moving to separate the girls before they become lesbian icons or some such. Things reach a head when Juliet’s Father is asked to resign from Canterbury University and parental separation is on the agenda. Dad is heading back to the old Country, Mom is hanging with her new flame, and Juliet is heading to her Aunt’s place in South Africa. Naturally this will be fine if Pauline can join her, but Pauline’s mom isn’t having a bar of it, things then become real dark.
Welcome to review number 500 for the site! Naturally since this is like a landmark I thought I should review something of particular merit, or at least something with plenty of nudity. Merit won out as I decided to review what, to my mind, is Peter Jackson’s best movie thus far, Heavenly Creatures. Jackson pretty much nails this flick in all departments and presents the viewer with one of the best ever movies to be made in New Zealand.
No doubt a masterpiece by Peter Jackson that is grossly overlooked when it comes to his body of work.
Jackson kicks off proceedings with one of those movie reels they used to play in cinemas prior to my birth, the documentary that people would now not bother watching on commercial television. Regardless of being informative or not the doco presents Canterbury as the best place in the world to live. If, apparently, you like riding a push bike to work or sailing replica yachts on the water in the park. Can’t get enough of that sort of thing myself. Having lulled the Audience into the tranquil benefits of Christchurch living, Jackson next hammers things with an up tempo introduction to Juliet and Pauline who are running through a bushland setting covered in blood. Even at this early stage Jackson introduces the fantasy world the girls inhabit, which I must admit threw me for a while till I nailed down the concept as the movie progressed.
Having established the climax of the movie, and introduced the two leads, Jackson reverts back in time and portrays their meeting, the friendship that blossoms, and it has to be said the onset of some sort of insanity that will propel us to the already seen conclusion. We're talking one of those movies that goes full circle here. Juliet and Pauline are so caught up in their fantasy world that they start to confuse fiction with fact, and to top things off with dreaming up all sorts of retribution on those they see as harming their relationship. In Jackson’s hands this goes beyond merely burgeoning womanhood and into a dark place where the girls throw off the shackles of a repressive society for what was viewed at the time as elicit love. While the girls aren’t doing anything that would be remotely skewed as wrong in the modern world, in 1950s Christchurch it was viewed as debauched and perhaps the result of mental illness. For the Audience the relationship, while journeying well of the beaten path, is perhaps only open to condemnation due to the over fantastic nature of the involvement of both parties. Reality is giving way to fantasy as both girls step beyond the cloistered confines of their world.
Jackson’s final block is a trip into the dark heart of madness as all morality is flung out of the window as the girls single-mindedly fight to keep their relationship alive regardless of the impact it is having on those around them. Jackson closes out with one of the more brutal yet cold hearted murders ever captures on film. It’s a startling achievement as the Audience are exposed to real evil, encapsulated by a complete lack of morals. For many viewers the ending of Heavenly Creatures will be simply devastating, you have been warned.
There are a number of elements to Heavenly Creatures that simply show Jackson at his very best. He captures the Christchurch of the 1950s with an eye to detail, at no stage did I note anything out of time or out of place. Right down to the afternoon tea scenes we’re talking authentic period Kiwiana. Equally both Jackson and co-writer Frances Walsh capture the whole relationship between the girls and the almost tangible fear that anything deviating from the norm elicited amongst a society dedicated to spotting the mutant, to borrow a John Wyndham idea, and to conforming to some more English than the English ideal.
Perhaps the biggest achievement Jackson can claim however is the morphing between the real world and the “fourth world”. As the movie progresses the boundaries breakdown increasingly as fantasy erodes reality. Jackson simply nails the transitions, you will believe in the girls’ gradually departure from reality as their situation deteriorates largely through mechanisms outside their control.
Out of room here but I would just like to mention the introduction of Kate Winslet as Juliet. Kate slays the role and already displays a screen presence that unfortunately out shines her co-star Melanie Lynskey, who equally turns in a commanding performance. The two leads help raise this movie beyond what one would expect from a low budget Kiwi drama, to one of the better films released anywhere in 1986.
Surprisingly this is only the third time I’ve dialled into Peter Jackson’s masterpiece, but am going on record as saying a fourth viewing won’t be that far away. Jackson is masterful, his leads nail it, and the story being told is well worth the price of admission. One of the best movies to ever have been made in New Zealand, full recommendation, Jackson shows his brilliance in every scene. If you have never seen a Kiwi movie before than search this one out folks, it’ll nail you to the wall.
For further information please browse on over to NZ Videos, the best site on the web for New Zealand production information.