The film begins with a newsreel of Christchurch, New Zealand. It then segways to two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme running through the woods, screaming hysterically at the tops of their lungs. They make it out of the woods, covered in blood, and they reveal that Pauline’s mother Honora is dead.
The movie then flashbacks to sometime in 1952. Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) is a fourteen-year-old girl. She is very sullen, and she dis-satisfied with her life, often spending time alone. She meets Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet), a wealthy girl from England, whose family has just moved to New Zealand, and they become fast friends. They are both excused from physical education class because of their respective health issues. Pauline was diagnosed with osteomyelitis when she was a child, and she had to get multiple surgeries on her legs; Juliet suffered from tuberculosis, and her parents, Henry and Hilda, sent her to the Bahamas for five years during World War II in order for her to recuperate.
As the two girls grow closer and closer, they come up with their own fantasy world, Borovnia, which is inhabited by what appear to be life-sized gray plasticine sculptures that are sentient and can move around like humans. They begin writing novels about the world together, and they plan to publish them and have them made into a series of Hollywood movies. Juliet also tells Pauline about “the Fourth World” which she says is better than heaven and contains an appreciation of art and music. The two girls very regularly escape from the real world into Borovnia and once into the Fourth World.
Pauline and Juliet are inseparable. However, things start to go south. First of all, Juliet falls ill with tuberculosis. Her parents send her to a hospital for four months, and they leave the country. Pauline only has limited opportunities to see Juliet in person. Juliet feels that her hospitalization is proof that her parents don’t really care about her, as they sent her away to the Bahamas during World War II “for the good of [her] health,” as they put it, and apparently, they had no contact with her. Pauline’s relationship with her mother also begins to deteriorate. This is compounded when she is caught in bed with a young man who was lodging with her family.
Pauline’s parents become concerned with their daughter’s obsessive friendship with Juliet. Honora takes her to the doctor who tells her that she may be homosexual (at the time, of course, homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness), but that it’s only a “phase” that will go away.
One night, Juliet catches her mother, Hilda having sex with another man. She tries to blackmail her mother, but Hilda reveals that her father already knows, and that her lover, one of her clients, will be staying in their home temporarily. Henry reveals that he and Hilda are getting divorced. Pauline is there to comfort Juliet when she hears the news. Henry also reveals that he is leaving the family home. Juliet is unwilling stay with her mother, and Henry reveals that Juliet will be moving to South Africa to live with an aunt so that the warmer South African client will be “for the good of [her] health.”
Pauline and Juliet are devastated about being separated. They both want go to South Africa together, but they are told that that’s impossible. None of their parents will allow it. They conclude that Honora is the obstacle standing in their way, and they make plans to murder her.
One day, Honora invites Pauline and Juliet on a picnic in the woods. While Honora is distracted, they hit her on the head with a brick, and continue doing so until she is dead. The two girls are charged with murder. Since they are minors, they can’t be sentenced to death. Instead, they are sentenced to an indefinite term in prison or as the court put it “ at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” After five years, Juliet and Pauline are released from prison on the condition that they never contact each other ever again.
Trial and aftermath
The trial was a sensational affair, with speculation about their possible lesbianism and insanity. The girls were convicted on 28 August 1954, and each of them spent five years in prison as they were too young to be considered for the death penalty. Some sources say they were released with the condition that they never contact each other again, but Sam Barnett, then Secretary for Justice, told journalists there was no such condition.
The murder was touched upon as strong evidence of moral decline less than four months later by the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents in what became known as the Mazengarb Report, named after its chair, Ossie Mazengarb.
After her release from prison, Juliet Hulme spent time in the United States and later began a successful career as a historical detective novelist under her new name, Anne Perry. She has been a Mormon since about 1968. The fact that Perry and Hulme were the same person was not well-known until 1994. In March 2006, Perry argued that while her relationship with Pauline Parker was obsessive, they were not lesbians.
Pauline Parker spent some time in New Zealand under close surveillance before being allowed to leave for England. As of 1997, she was living in the small village of Hoo near Strood, Kent, and running a children’s riding school. As an adult, she became a Roman Catholic. She expressed strong remorse for having killed her mother and for many years refused to give interviews about the murder.
I learned about the case a few years ago. I thought that it would make an excellent movie. Then I found out that it was made into a movie. I found it on Netflix, and I watched it.
I found it fascinating to watch the story of a close friendship unfold. As I said in a few previous posts, I find it very enjoyable to see movies that are about close, intimate relationships between two people, whether familial, platonic, or romantic.
The story really pulls you into the world that the girls created for themselves. It is fascinating to see the depictions of Borovnia, and how real it was to them. The film also shows how friendship can go wrong, and how unhealthy and destructive it can be.
I think what I can take from the movie is that it is wonderful to feel close to someone, to have to one true, close, deep friend. But you can’t let a friendship allow you to harm others.