4.6 Evidence about the girls' relationship

How accurate is the portrayal of the girls' relationship?

[jp] Many important physical 'facts' related to the girls' relationship were presented in a commendably non-judgemental and accurate way by the filmmakers. All of the physically-verifiable points discussed previously in section 3.1.11 were drawn from court testimony presented during trial and were presented reasonably-accurately in the film, with a couple of exceptions. This would include at least some aspects of the night with the Saints, incidentally.

But, significantly, the filmmakers chose to ignore many issues raised in testimony and recorded in the literature. This may have been done in an effort to present a self-consistent portrait of the girls' relationship, or even because the film could have become unbalanced with too much background exposition. There is also the suspicion that the filmmakers may have left out those pieces of evidence which did not fit the filmmakers' picture of the girls' relationship.

Which points were portrayed inaccurately?

[jp,lfr,jb] The most glaring inaccuracy was the character of the girls' relationship during the crucial last few weeks before the murder. The reader is referred to section 3.1.11 for a more detailed account. The other quantitatively inaccurate aspect of the girls' relationship, and this is almost unavoidable in a film representation, was the amount of time they spent together and how that changed as the months went by. To their credit, the filmmakers did a reasonable job of portraying how their families saw the girls, and they used this as an indirect way of informing the audience about how much time the girls spent together.

What was left out of the film?

[jp,sb,lfr] The filmmakers left out things the girls did together which were too complex to be digested easily or categorized neatly. They are without a doubt extremely important pieces of the puzzle if an accurate assessment of the girls' relationship is ever to be constructed, but they are hard to classify, especially in the context of an already-ambiguous film.

For example, the filmmakers chose not to show the girls' many escapes to the country, obliquely referred to in the "Donkey Serenade" scene (which was a real event, accurately depicted). According to court testimony, the girls frequently skipped school together (truancy was extremely easy to detect at their small school) and rode to the countryside.

The girls' obvious truancy would have been a concrete piece of evidence available to the parents, proving that their daughters were spending an inordinate amount of time together. It could have been a very important part of the equation of the parents' response to the girls' relationship. Truency could have been concrete evidence used by Honora to justify punishing Pauline, for example. Skipping school was a very big deal in both households; it was a very public (and illegal) act, especially in this small community. Hilda Hulme was on the Board of Directors of CGHS.

Finally, the existing quotations from Paulinie's diary portray a much more complicated relationship than the one portrayed in the film, and one which evolved over time. Also, although reference to physical intimacy is, in a strict and formal sense, oblique and almost 'coded' in Pauline's diaries, it really is pretty clear to most readers that there was a much more significant physical component to the girls' relationship than was depicted in "Heavenly Creatures." The filmmakers chose to stick with those passages with the 'hardest evidence' and didn't include episodes where physical intimacy wasn't stated explicitly. They were obviously swayed by the statements made by Pauline and by Juliet to the psychiatrists, which show an incredible naivité when it came to sexual matters.

Obviously, this kind of evidence doesn't fit in neatly with a Borovnian fantasy narrative or, for that matter, with either of the two options presented to us by the filmmakers: a neat picture of the girls as knowing, adult lovers, or as loving sisters. The trial testimony and the other material is dramatic and compelling evidence in support of an extreme emotional dependence of one girl for the other, and for an intense relationship which is hard to categorize in all its facets.

What are the overall differences: film vs. real life?

[jp] To modern sensibilites, the overall impression made by the evidence presented in court is one of a relationship based on both girls trying to satisfy very deep emotional needs that weren't being filled in their respective families. And, perhaps curiously, that it really was a relationship with a very large intellectual and spiritual component. It seems pretty clear that their relationship was probably much more complicated than a superficial crush or puppy love or even 'simple' romantic love. There was more evidence presented in testimony than in the film that the girls had a physically-intimate relationship. Many aspects of their relationship really did fall pretty far outside the bounds of a simple mature sexual or romantic attraction.

So the main difference between the film and the evidence presented in real life lies in the complexity and the tone of the girls' relationship. The film effectively conveyed the desperate longing of one girl for the other, but it may have missed the mark slightly in all the girls' different needs for each other. Trial evidence suggets that Juliet had many other aspects to her need for Pauline other than the lonliness brought about by her being sent away "for the good of her health." And trial evidence also paints a picture of Pauline as a girl beset by considerable external personal and family problems, which Juliet and her family helped relieve.

In some aspects of their personal relationship, one gets the impression from some post-trial analysis and from viewing some trial testimony in hindsight, that Pauline was more the leader and Juliet more the follower, while the opposite seemed to be true in other aspects. The public, as will be clear from the material collected in section 7, viewed Juliet as the manipulative and domineering mastermind of the whole affair. Dominant-submissive pairing is a classic component of "folie deux" but whether or not this was an appropriate diagnosis will be left to the reader to judge.

On the other hand...?

[jp,lfr] Who really knows? Clearly, understanding the girls' relationship is key to undestanding the murder, but all the evidence presented in the trial should be filtered through the culture, events and times before being considered seriously. It can only be a distorted, incomplete set of data from a source so far away from the here and now. And there is no doubt that other relationships were just as important in their combined influence.

So, it is certainly conceivable that Jackson and Walsh may have presented a more accurate picture of some aspects of the girls' relationship than the one that emerged from the trial. The filmmakers' artistic vision is certainly more coherent and consistent than the muddled testimony of the many psychiatrists who testified in court, and it paints an emotionally-believable portrait. It just might not be anywhere close to the whole story, however. "Heavenly Creatures" is one opinion, not the final word.


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