Observations about school scenes

What do we learn about Pauline from the opening scenes?

[jp,sb] Plenty. These opening scenes in the school under the titles and credits are very important. We learn Pauline lived very close to the school, in a property backing onto the school grounds. In real life, that's exactly where she did live. On the same block, on Gloucester St just south of the school. Gloucester runs parallel to Armagh, which was where the cars were dropping off students at the front entrance. Glamuzina & Laurie found from their interviews that this situation was unusual, and most of the 'day' girls in the school lived in the more affluent suburbs; presumably, these were the girls being driven to school and dropped off. We learn that Pauline could easily sneak out of her room undetected, over the back fence. We learn Pauline was a serious girl, something of a loner, but not so much that others didn't know her. She is greeted coming over the fence quite enthusiastically by one friend, and others call out to her in the hallways; she responds with a smile that fades quickly.

What can be learned from school uniforms?

[jp,mc] School uniforms are supposed to remove all sartorial differentiation between students. They are supposed to act as an economic equalizer, and they are also supposed to instill a sense of cohesion in the student body, and a sense of pride and loyalty to the institution in the students. In the 'socially progressive' state High School the girls attended, which freely and deliberately mixed girls of all social strata, these were important roles for school uniforms. Now for reality. Most students actually use school uniforms as instruments of free speech and/or protest and for setting up cliques within the school. The signs are just more subtle than they would be if there were no uniforms--small objects of jewelry or other accessories, added discretely, a certain way of knotting a tie, a unique way of wearing certain objects, for example belts and especially hats, body decoration. See section 6.3 for several good examples of films which demonstrate the versatility of the school uniform as a vehicle of individual expression. Especially Lyndsay Anderson's "If..." And school uniforms are like prison garb in the outside world--the citizens of Christchurch would know on sight all school uniforms, and would be able to report any mischief or truancy in the town to the appropriate school official. Pauline would have had to buy her school uniform, or make it, and this would have been a reasonably-large financial burden on the Rieper family, though it would have saved on the cost of other clothes. Apparently, this cost was borne willingly by her parents, showing the importance which Honora, in particular, placed upon Pauline's education. School uniforms were universal in all Christchurch schools at the time. See Janet Frame's Autobiography (listed in 7.7) for much more, absolutely fascinating, material on school uniforms in NZ.

What is learned about Pauline and Juliet from their uniforms?

[jp] Pauline was rushed in putting on her uniform, leaving it until the last possible moment, and a little sloppy in her attire. In this context, both of these things are classic signs of protest against authority, and indicate that Pauline very much thought of herself as struggling against the system from the outside. Her hair was wild and messy, her tie wasn't done up properly, she was indifferent about her stockings, she wasn't keen to wear her hat. Throughout "Heavenly Creatures" Pauline's attire in her school uniform gradually became progressively more sloppy. In contrast, look at Juliet's presentation. She was neat, precise, correct. We learn Juliet was also rebellious, but she worked by stretching the boundaries of the system from within.

What were the girls singing in assembly?

[jp] The girls were singing the hymn "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." For an analysis of this piece, and its significance, see 3.1.19. Several people have commented that the hymn was familiar, but not in the context of school assemblies.

Why wasn't Pauline singing?

[jp] In context, Pauline was making the following rather bold statement, almost unconsciously: she did not feel like she was part of this system and, furthermore, she was thumbing her nose at those parts of the culture which the system held very dear but which she did not. Pauline's not singing wasn't a small thing, it wasn't a passive abstention, and it wasn't funny in this environment. For proof, look at the reaction she got. Pauline was rebuked by a scowl from the headmistress, Miss Stewart. Imagine being chastised this severely for doing something as innocuous as sitting quietly during assembly. The pressures to conform here were very great indeed. Pauline lowers her eyes and starts to sing, in time for the final line, but her expression is dark.

Which girl was the last one to "sit-tuh!" in assembly?

[jp] Pauline, of course.

What class did Juliet join?

[jp] Juliet arrived late and joined Pauline's French class, already in progress. The headmistress, Miss Stewart, identified the class as "the girls of IIIA" after telling them to "sit-tuh!" Naturally, Pauline was the last in her seat, once again. Her name card was wildly askew.

What can be learned about the girls from their class name?

[jp,jb,sb,mc] Even the smallest details have some cultural significance in this rigidly-structured setting, and some significance within the background of the story, too. This is also true of the girls' class. The school system ranked the students according to their academic abilities, openly and publicly in some respects. The results of important tests and examinations, for example, were posted in descending order of grade for all to see. Students would have related to each other in terms of these academic pecking orders. The classes, too, were ranked. So, we learn that both Pauline and Juliet were at the top of the heap, academically--they were in IIIA, not IIIB or IIIC. Furthermore, since Juliet was half a year younger than Pauline, this tells us that she was particularly bright. Glamuzina & Laurie state that the Hulmes "decided, in view of this, that she (JMH) would get more mental stimulation at the local high school, where she would be part of a larger group of students than at a small private school". [note: "HC" implies the small private school would be St Margaret's. jp] [note: Confirmed that Pauline was in the top academic stream and that Juliet's measured IQ was 170 in '52. jb] We later find out that Juliet had missed much school, on and off, due to illness, as had Pauline. Yet, the academic performances of the girls remained very strong. These were very, very bright kids. And, significantly, their intelligence was recognized by the system and by their community.

What can be learned from Juliet's introduction?

[jp] Juliet's introduction was a highly-informative, condensed summary of the social mores and attitudes of Christchurch. It's a wonderful scene. Juliet was introduced personally by the headmistress, Miss Stewart (i.e. this student was important). Check out Miss Stewart's quasi-Upper Class British accent, one-upping Juliet's. Miss Stewart stated Juliet's prior schooling, emphasizing that she had attended private schools before coming to Girls' High. Also, Miss Stewart made sure everyone knew that Juliet's father was Rector of Canterbury University College (Juliet beamed proudly). Miss Waller, the French teacher, was certainly impressed (having this child in her class would give her social brownie points and something significant to gossip about). And, finally, Miss Stewart made sure that the class knew Juliet had travelled "all over the world" and that Juliet would be happy to share her impressions "of exotic lands across the seas" with the "gehls" of IIIA. Another reference to the provincialism of Christchurch; we get the impression that most of Juliet's classmates had never travelled far outside the city. This made Juliet an exotic creature, herself. But Miss Stewart made one faux pas: she forgot to mention that Juliet wasn't just well connected, but she was also from the mother country. "Actually, Miss Stewart, I am from England." This transformed Juliet into the closest thing to royalty in the school, and it was a subtle put-down of Miss Stewart by Juliet [note: A sentiment, oddly enough, echoed by Anne Perry forty years later, in her comments to me, though the filmmakers could hardly have known of her present attitude. see jp]. And this scene reinforces that, in this school/social structure, breeding, background and connection were extremely important. Students would have been judged and classified by who their fathers were and what they did. If your father was somebody, you jolly-well spoke up and derived the greatest benefit from his coat-tails. If he wasn't, you did your best to keep the issue out of sight, though there could have been no secrets.

What do we learn about Juliet in French class?

[jp] We learn that Juliet is willful, more than a little arrogant and quite used to speaking her mind. The fact that she was correct was also particularly galling to Miss Waller, of course. The fact that she rubbed it in was quite beyond the pale; this incident would easily have become the stuff of school legend. Juliet's chosen name (Antoinette) was also flamboyant to the point of bringing on disapproval. But she got away with it, another clue to her privileged status. Incidentally, Juliet's chosen French name may have been a subtle allusion to Anne Perry by Walsh and Jackson. In her published biography, Ms Perry states that she has always held a deep fascination with the French Revolution (see 7.10.2).

What do we learn about Pauline in French class?

[jp] Pauline daydreamed in French class, and she was meekly 'Paulette'--hardly an imaginative stretch for her. We gather French was not one of her favorite subjects. As mentioned, Pauline was the last pupil to "sit-tuh!" on Miss Stewart's command, her name card wildly askew, and she smiled in subversive approval when Juliet corrected Miss Waller.

What do we learn about the girls in the first Art class?

[jp,lfr] Pauline was "with no-one." Juliet was quite happy to manage by herself. The girls were thrown together by Art. The girls stood out like sore thumbs from their peers. The other girls were flighty and playfully shallow in their imaginations. Pauline and Juliet shared some deeper sensibility that included grand romance and violence. And Pauline found out Juliet revered Mario Lanza, and Juliet found out Pauline looked up to her. Juliet clearly approved of Pauline's admiration. Mrs Collins rebuked both girls for not following the topic she assigned.

What do we learn about the girls in PhysEd (gym class)?

[jp] The girls stood apart physically from the other girls, not just emotionally. We learn about their diseases (see 3.1.8) and they learn they have even more in common than their outlook on life. They were excused from 'PhysEd' (physical education) and 'games' (intramural sports). This gave them lots of compulsory, virtually unsupervised time together. It's no wonder they became fast friends. They would have been in all classes together, and they had this extra, special time to themselves as well.

How does Juliet annoy Mrs Stevens?

[jp,lfr,sb] The class had been given an assignment to write an essay on "The Role of the Royal Family Today." It isn't clear what class this was--it could have been Geography or Social Studies (there were maps of Europe and Palestine on the wall and a globe on the teacher's desk). Juliet read her story aloud to the class about the lives, loves and dramatic intrigues of Borovnia, and Diello in particular. This was not what the teacher had in mind and Juliet knew this, of course. Juliet was treading on very thin ice. The historical context of the upcoming Coronation and Royal Tour made Juliet's stunt not just a minor amusement, but absolutely audacious and scandalous. Once again, Juliet had done something which would make its way into school legend, no doubt. [I am trying to find out if this was, indeed, a true story. jp] The scene with Mrs Stevens is probably an 'homage' to the public reaction during the trial, where it was learned (and reported with incredulity) that neither girl had shown much interest in the Royal Tour--and this was taken to be an indication that they were not mentally balanced. [sb] The Coronation and Royal Tour are featured prominently in an early draft of the script (Heavenly Creatures, Draft #5, February 7, 1993, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills, CA.). [lfr]

What does Pauline say in Juliet's defense?

[jp] "You didn't say it had to be about the Windsors!"

Who are "the Windsors?"

[jp] The British Royal family is drawn from the House of Windsor. By "the Windsors" Pauline was referring to Elizabeth, her husband Philip and their two children (at that time) Charles and Anne. That's Anne with an 'e,' like Queen Anne. In real life, of course, Juliet was later to adopt this name for herself.

What happens to Juliet in Mrs Stevens' class?

[jp] Juliet starts coughing up blood--she is diagnosed with TB (see 3.1.8).

What do we learn about Pauline in the second Art class?

[jp] Pauline's fantasies were becoming more violent and explicitly gory by the time of the second Art class scene. We also see that her teacher noted and disapproved of this trend.

What did Pauline say to John about History class?

[jp,sb] She criticized the teacher as being silly and irrelevant: "senile old bat!" Pauline said "It's no wonder I don't excel at history!" The subject was light, but it indicates just what a prominent place school held in the girls' lives (look at the context!). School, teachers, their fellow students even schoolwork were things they would have talked and gossiped about constantly.

What happened to Pauline's grades and when?

[jp] According to Honora, who brandished a letter from Miss Stewart, Pauline's grades plummeted early in the 1954 school year, i.e. Fifth Form, or Form V in CGHS. Earlier, at the end of Third Form in December 1952, she had told her mother she got an 'A' in English. A little more than a year later Honora said to Pauline that her grades all used to be A's and B's but that she was now failing, and Miss Stewart was worried she wouldn't get her School Certificate. As discussed previously, it was more likely that Pauline would have actually reported her grades as percentages and also her place in class. ("I got an 84 in English, Mom. Third equal with Cynthia so-and-so."). This would have made Pauline's slide even more obvious and quantifiable, and would have fueled Honora's anger even more. It is interesting to note that Glamuzina & Laurie concluded that there was no evidence of Pauline's grades falling at all, in real life, according to CGHS records. This would put a whole new spin on Honora removing Pauline from school, of course.

What options were open to girls with academic problems?

[maw] If your grades were too low you would have been demoted, ultimately to the lowest stream of the lowest form. You could have been advised to leave, based on your grades, if you were too poor. However, if you had 'academic' parents, or if your mother or another female relative had attended the school or one of the other Girls' Highs NZ-wide you would not have been kicked out. I would guess if you were from one of the first settler families you probably wouldn't have got the flick either. Conversely, if your grades improved you would be promoted, ultimately into the top academic stream.

When, how and why did Pauline leave school?

[jp,lfr,sb,mc] Pauline left school during the Fifth Form, in the 1954 school year, around Easter. According to the film, she left at her mother's insistence after a very acrimonious and emotional shouting match. Honora finally declares that she doesn't see "why I should keep a horrid little child like you in school a moment longer." Pauline was fifteen at the time, and was just old enough to leave school legally. But she left before amassing enough credit to sit the examination for "School Certificate," which she would have written at the end of Fifth Form, in December 1954. Although the film is not clear on this point, in real life Juliet did not attend school after her return from the sanatorium in September 1953. This would have contributed greatly to the girls being apart and would also help explain why Pauline took up Honora's challenge and ditched school altogether--why bother going if Juliet wasn't there? Pauline left under the condition that she would pay her own way in the Rieper home. Which meant she had to get herself a job. With her lack of qualifications, this could only have been a dead-end, low-end clerical white collar job. Which meant she had to give up all of her dreams and aspirations. Pauline was certainly no fool--she could extrapolate her fate and all she saw ahead of her at this point were dashed hopes and enormous hurdles placed deliberately and, to her mind, spitefully in her path by her mother. This event might have been even more significant in real life than it was portrayed in the film.

What is a "School Certificate?"

[lw,mc] In the NZ school system, this was the most rudimentary certificate of secondary education that was available. It was an external examination sat after the completion of Fifth Form. Most white-collar employers would have looked for this as a condition of employment, or a similar diploma. Having School Certificate made a graduate employable.

Was Pauline's course of action that unusual?

[mc,maw,jp] Remember that the girls of IIIA were identified as the academic cream of CGHS. Most of the girls who entered CGHS in Form IIIA went on to Teachers' College or to University. The 'A' class sat School Cert after 3 years, immediately at the end of Form V, whereas the rest of the school sat the exam after 4 years, and the pass rate for the 'A' class was higher than for the other classes. It was extremely rare for any CGHS girls to go to Digby's instead, and dropping out of school was unheard of. [mc] In real life Pauline's dropping out seems to have generated many waves and much concern, in Miss Stewart and in Hilda Hulme, who was actually a member of the Board of Governors of CGHS. [jp] Digby's was looked down upon. I don't remember anyone dropping out from my class, in the early 60s, except for one girl who became pregnant in Fifth Form--shock, horror!! Pauline's dropping out probably would have been seen as a failure of the school, at the time, and would certainly have caused a stir. [maw]

What did Pauline do after she left school?

[jp,sb] She went back to school, as she had to, to become employable. Only now, she was in a vocational school, learning to type and file--at Digby's Commercial College. So she could eventually get that dead-end, mindless job. The contrast between the wonderful fantasy world she shared with Juliet and the hard reality of her daily life must have been stark to Pauline. The pull-back tracking shot of Pauline typing in a growing sea of typists, at Digby's, as the sound of letters smacking the page grew and grew, is a wonderful one even as it is terribly dispiriting for the audience to see. "Digby's" is an ominous shadow on the wall, hanging above Pauline's head. The entire class is women, in an ironic perversion of the school she just left. Pauline even sat in the same seat as in her CGHS classes. She is dressed in black.

Did Juliet miss any school or leave school?

[jp,lfr] Yes, and there is evidence in real life that Juliet worried a lot about missing this time. Juliet became sick with more than one term left in the 1953 school year. She seems to have recovered sufficiently to return to school the next year, but she never did, although this fact isn't made clear in the film. In real life, Juliet never attended school again. Her experiences at CGHS seem to have made a lasting impression on her, because she still recalls them (see

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