By Hannah North
I have been a huge fan of Heavenly Creatures since I first saw it about 10 years ago. Ever since, and coupled with an obsession with The Lord of the Rings, I have wanted to visit New Zealand and seek out some of the historical locations and filming locations.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to go to New Zealand in March with my boyfriends’ very generous family (they were only planning on a holiday to Australia until they were informed of my lifelong wish!)
Alongside must-see stops at Hobbiton in Matamata, and some spots in Wellington, we hit Christchurch on the last stop of our tour.
I tentatively scheduled in two stops which are very important to the Parker-Humle case. I approached this with a sense of trepidation as well as excitement- unlike the Lord of the Rings filming locations, this wasn’t just somewhere Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet shot a brilliant film years ago, but also the actual place where these terrible events happened. A strange sense of morbid fascination made me feel quite conflicted whether these should be a stop off as a ‘tourist.’
My sense of unease was only exacerbated when we arrived in Christchurch and I was simply bowled over by the level of devastation which has hit the beautiful city. It was a barren landscape, like something out of ‘This Is Legend.’ The streets were empty, buildings sealed up, and the centre completely cordoned off into a ‘red zone.’ It’s amazing how the focus of the world news quickly allows you to forget the lasting devastation of natural disasters in the years after they strike.
I was lucky enough to have tracked down the book ‘So Brilliantly Clever’ by Peter Graham whilst in Matamata, and had read the majority of it by the time I had reached Christchurch. It is an incredible book which fills in a lot of historical information not in the film, or even the public eye. From this I had plenty of insight into the area during the 50s, as well as the specific areas I could go to.
My first stop was Gloucester Road, where Pauline, Honora and the rest of the family lived at number 31. I knew that the house had been demolished some time ago, and that the film was shot on a sound stage, but still this was a very chilling historical place to go. On the old site stood a new build house with a rather nice car parked outside. I wondered whether the occupants knew of the site’s history.
Interestingly, the house next door to 31 (33) was still standing – just. It was incredibly old looking and run down, and eerily, the front door was wide open and appeared to be empty. I had to fight all my instincts not to have a poke around, but I didn’t particularly fancy a run in with New Zealand police! It was lucky I didn’t as after only being there a minute or two an old lady pulled up and went into the house. This house is featured in ‘So Brilliantly Clever’ and is apparently where the borders stayed as featured in the film. The book has a satellite view from behind which seemed to suggest the property hadn’t changed at all since the 50’s.
After this I had a brief stroll around Cranmer Square and Hagley Park, both of which were very beautiful and it wasn’t hard to imagine it during the 50s.
The next day, I managed to schedule in a stop to Ilam, which was very exciting indeed as it was the actually filming location as well as historical location. The house looks almost exactly as it did in the film, with the very sad addition of fencing and big signs keeping people out – as with everything else, it is closed due to the earthquake. It also appeared to be completely empty inside, so they must have taken everything away last year. The gardens, however, looked pristine. You can see on the picture the exact bridge where Juliet’s entrance was filmed. It was such a beautiful place to be! I could really imagine the girls playing there… an odd feeling indeed.
I didn’t end up going to Victoria Park, partly because I did not have the time, but also because I felt a little uncomfortable about it. I had been seriously considering my love for Heavenly Creatures, and where my enjoyment of the dramatization ends and my historical interest begins. It is something I am happy I did, however, but the crime does now feel a lot closer to home and the film is somewhat harder to watch (I was very pleased to buy the Blu ray version on my return to the UK, finally replacing my old Canadian import!)
If you enjoyed my pictures, please donate to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.