The traditions in Christchurch, New Zealand were rooted in the same English sensibilities, especially with regard to the value of education and its social significance. Indeed, many of the power-elite in Christchurch in 1954 were English or were of English stock, and were easily identified whenever they opened their mouths to speak (see 220.127.116.11).
Social traditions in New Zealand were changing in the 50s, and the similarities and differences between New Zealand and Britain and the different social trends make for fascinating study. Regardless, it is worth taking a close look at schooling in "Heavenly Creatures."
The girls are shown wearing their school uniforms throughout much of the film, and school uniforms are used symbolically in many ways in "Heavenly Creatures." See below and 18.104.22.168.
Despite the fact that they rebelled against it, school was very much the defining experience for the girls at that time in their lives. It concentrated within its four walls everything about the society in which they lived, and especially all of the values and yardsticks used to define the worth of people in that society. And it was a competitive environment.
To Pauline, especially, school had been the only outlet for her
intellect and for her creativity, until Juliet arrived. The importance
of the school events in the first half of this story probably
can't be overestimated.
22.214.171.124 Lessons from teachers
In the assembly, she commands the students to "Sit-tuh!" and does so again when she intrudes into Miss Waller's French class. We get the impression Miss Stewart liked to run a tight ship. Later, Honora Rieper received a letter from Miss Stewart voicing concern over Pauline's performance at school, so Miss Stewart also took a personal interest in the progress of her pupils.
Although she was feared and respected by her students [note: Confirmed. ap,mc], Miss Stewart would have also been an important role model of sorts for the girls. She was obviously a spinster, and the school was obviously her whole life. The girls would have learned from Miss Stewart that it was possible for a woman to be a successful and highly-regarded professional and that a woman's fulfillment and happiness in life wasn't necessarily tied to finding a man and producing babies. Very progressive and subversive... I have no idea if Miss Stewart would have approved of the message, but there you go. Given the emphasis at CGHS on academics, I rather suspect she would have approved. [jp]
"It is customary for a student to stand when addressing a teacher."
Discipline and a traditional code of values and conduct were valued highly.
Even the Arts required discipline.
This community took things like the Royal Family very seriously indeed.
There is an additional dynamic, however. This incident took place on May 11, 1953, according to "Heavenly Creatures." King George VI had died on February 6, 1952 and, since that time, the Coronation ceremonies of his successor, Elizabeth II, had been in the planning. The Coronation itself was a huge spectacle and it was followed by ceremonies and celebrations all over the world and especially all around the British Commonwealth (or, what used to be "The Empire")--basically, this was to be a bash people would talk about for decades to come. The Coronation was scheduled for June 2, scant weeks away, so Royal-mania would have been at an absolute fever pitch in the British-mad Commonwealth community of Christchurch.
And, in real life, there was a Royal Tour of Australasia which passed through Christchurch (be still my heart!) around Christmas, 1953. Royal-mania was to become Royal-frenzy in late 1953, although the Royal Tour was not featured in the North American release of the film. [jp]