[Mir,aa,jp] "Heavenly Creatures" is based on a true story and as such, Jackson felt it important to shoot the movie on location in Christchurch, New Zealand where the actual events took place.
Christchurch is located a little more than halfway up the larger South Island of New Zealand, at Pegasus Bay on its east coast. The city is built on a plain, just north of an outcrop of hills (Banks Peninsula) which jut into the sea, with countless inlets, harbours and estuaries.
In Christchurch, main roads radiate from central Cathedral Square, with minor roads forming a web inbetween, in a manner reminiscent of old British market towns such as Oxford. The Avon River cuts the town in half as it meanders eastward to the sea. There are countless streams and rivers in the area. Christchurch is flat, very conducive to biking and biking was a common way to get around at that time.
"Christchurch has always regarded itself as the most English city outside England. The city's founding in the 19th century by the offspring of English gentry was an attempt to recreate a little bit of England in the Southern Hemisphere. There is a River Avon, a cathedral facing the square and English-style architecture in whose shelter the traditions and rituals of upper-middle-class English life were (and to some extent are) maintained." G. O'Brien, NY Times, Nov. 13, 1994. p. H15.
[Mir,aa,jl,G?,ad,jp] Filming was performed at the Ilam Homestead where the Hulme family had lived, as well as making extensive use of the Ilam gardens, where the real Pauline and Juliet had play-acted their fantasies forty years earlier. As the filmmakers discovered from Pauline's diary, she loved staying at Ilam. From her descriptions of their idyllic times together, they realized the gardens in particular were the backdrop to the private world inhabited by the two girls.
Ilam was located in the upscale residential suburb of Upper Riccarton; it is now in the Ilam area of Christchurch. It was named after Ilam Hall, the English home of the Watts-Russell family who settled the area in the 1850s. The site of the homestead had once been one of the main social centres of early Christchurch society. The present homestead was built in 1914 after fire destroyed the first two buildings. The Ilam gardens are locally renowned and are a popular tourist attraction. Ilam was sold to the University in 1950, the year the Hulmes moved to take up residence there.
Ilam was a residence for the Rector, owned by Canterbury University College, also used for College social functions. The balcony, location for several critical scenes in "Heavenly Creatures," had been glassed in since the mid 1950s, so was reconstructed on a set and digitally added to Ilam as necessary.
Ilam is located on the south-west side of the spacious grounds of the present campus of the University of Canterbury, beside the Avon River where it has a meandering confluence. Now, there are student residential dormitories nearby, just south of Homestead road. Some are visible to the left side of the house, over trees, in "Heavenly Creatures". At the time shown in "Heavenly Creatures" the Ilam homestead was on the outskirts of Christchurch in a sparsely-populated part of town. There were paddocks for horses nearby on the College property, and the School of Fine Arts was the only College department on the Ilam site. The homestead is set back from Ilam Road, to the west, with a long, curving, tree-lined drive. The front of the home, with its stately white portcullis and columns, faces east and is lit from the north-east by the morning sun. The lawn and gardens at the rear of the home are lit by the afternoon sun, in the north- west.
The house itself has been changed quite significantly from the time it was a residence as it now has a bar and, upstairs, a restaurant.
There is a long drive and the house is hidden from the road by a stand of trees and a large clear area. The front door is in the middle of the front under a portcullis and up three shallow steps. There is a large double door which opens into a square hallway with a large staircase at the rear and left. At the front right there is a large sitting room with a fireplace on the straight inside wall and a large, flat window at one end; to the right is a bay window.
To the left of the hall, beside the stairs, there is now a bar, with two smallish rooms leading off one another. Looking from the front door, straight ahead is a glass rear door to a patio. The staircase is off to the left, and proceeds up with a small landing on which you need to make an about turn to continue up to the top. It is at the top of the stairs that the biggest changes have been made. At least three rooms have been combined into one for the dining room and, I should think, at least two others form the kitchen. [ad]
So, it sounds as if some significant interior redecorating was necessary to reconstruct the Ilam upstairs, including Juliet's, Hilda's and Mr Perry's bedrooms for "Heavenly Creatures."
To get to Ilam, Pauline would probably have bicycled west from her home, cutting through North Hagley Park, then following the #21 bus line all the way. (Taking the bus from Cathedral Square was also a possibility). She would travel straight westward on Riccarton Road to Ilam Road, then right (northward) up Ilam Road, past Ilam School on her right (Juliet's elementary School) and then a left turn into the long drive of the Ilam homestead. All told, it is about 5 km (about 3 miles), door to door, over perfectly flat terrain, from 31 Gloucester St. to Ilam, so it would have taken Pauline something like 45 minutes to bike from her home to Juliet's.
[Mir,aa,jp] The old buildings that previously housed the Christchurch Girls' High School in Cranmer Square still remain, and are now owned by the Christchurch City Council. The council was more than happy to oblige the production, so that all the school scenes could be filmed in the original buildings. Pauline and Juliet's original home room is now occupied by the Canterbury Woman's Embroidery Guild, who were also happy to accommodate the filmmakers by moving out for a week while they shot.
The present-day principal, Dawn Lamb, denied permission to shoot at the present-day school, saying "why couldn't [the filmmakers] make a film about pupils of whom we are proud?"
[Mir,aa,mk] The only original site that proved to be a disappointment was that of the Rieper House at 31 Gloucester Street which was no longer standing. However, based on photographs and memories of family and friends, Jackson was able to recreate the interior layout and decor of the home on a sound stage.
Not surprisingly, there is just an empty lot there now, with a sign announcing the imminent building of town houses on the site. (It's ironic that the house - boarders, lower class and all - which symbolized so much of what PYP wanted to escape from, was in what is now one of the most sought-after areas of Christchurch). What surprised me (although I don't know why it should have) is that 31 Gloucester St. *does* back onto CGHS just as the film portrays it. Another example of Walsh and Jackson's thorough homework. [mk]
[jp, mk] The shadowy, cloistered stone buildings that once housed "Canterbury College" where Dr Hulme was rector was an original location.
The new site of the University is located on the upper Avon River in the western part of the city, farthest inland. It is about 5 km (3 mi) from the town center, in the Ilam/Fendalton region of Christchurch. There are golf courses and racecourses nearby, and the International Airport is a few km to the northwest.
Another wee quirk I discovered was that the building where Henry Hulme' office was located during his time at Canterbury College now houses the Christchurch Family Planning Association. I'm not sure why that strikes me as ironic, but the implication of "family planning" seems antithetical to Henry and Hilda's way of doing things. If there'd been a bit more 'planning' in their 'family' Juliet might have had a happier and less murderous childhood. [mk]
[jp,G?] The seaside village of Port Levy where the Hulmes took Pauline for an Easter holiday was an original location. The terrain is hilly down to the sea, and there is a small island in the inlet, referred to by Pauline in her diary entries.
Port Levy is just 20 km (12 mi) south of Christchurch city center as the crow flies, but by road it would be at least twice that distance (described as '35 miles from Christchurch' in Court testimony) because of the intervening hilly terrain and Lytelton Harbour.
The shortest and most pleasant drive from Christchurch to Port Levy would be up Dyers Pass Road, through the Cashmere Hills, past Victoria Park, and around Lyttelton Harbour. Thus, it's likely that the Hulmes would have driven past what would become the site of the murder travelling to and from Port Levy. It is obvious from Pauline Parker's diaries that her time at Port Levy had been extremely special to her.
Hilda Hulme retreated to Port Levy after the trial with WAB Perry, for some peace. She had been evicted from Ilam by that time.
Glamuzina & Laurie report that the Hulmes bought a small house (a beach cottage) at Port Levy. They go on to say that the house had disappeared from Maori ownership upon the death of the legal owner in 1943 and had been sold to a non-Maori business by the Maori Trustee without consulting the surviving family, who regarded the transaction as an injustice.
Glamuzina & Laurie also report that the Port Levy (Puaui) area was one of particular spiritual significance to the Maori and they offer, in their book, a Maori interpretation of Pauline and Juliet's "Port Levy Revelation" and the murder. They also comment that Pauline later studied Maori while in prison, and they feel this is significant.
[Mir,aa,jp] Location shooting also took place in the tea rooms sitting at the top of Victoria Park, which were virtually unchanged from that bright winter day when Pauline, Juliet and Honora had tea and cakes before taking their fateful afternoon walk. Remarkably, the tea rooms were torn down shortly after the film was made.
Victoria Park lies about 7 km south of the city center, near the summit (500 m) of the Cashmere hills, which form the southern border of Christchurch. "Heavenly Creatures" shows Honora and the two girls taking the #2 Cashmere bus on June 22, 1954, up to the Dyers Pass Road terminus. From there they had to walk about 1 km up Victoria Park Road to the lookout and Tearooms of the Park. Today, the No. 2 bus route has been split into three separate routes: the 10, 11 and 13. They're shown by this link at the Chistchurch Transit website. The #10 most closely follows the original No. 2 route.