“Pretty,” drools a man-beast over a preeeeciousss jewel-box item. “Sob,” gushes Kate Winslet, torn from her beloved by ship.
Yes, looking back, it’s tempting to view Peter Jackson’s true-life matricidal drama as a gangplank in director and star’s routes to Rings and Titanic. But their breakthrough brims with self-contained confidence: no mere calling card, it’s a full-bodied, full-blooded stand-alone.
Winslet is a livewire as Juliette, the poorly but perky English teenager in ’50s new Zealand who befriends sulky Pauline (Melanie Lynskey); a chalk/cheese coupling forged in romantic outsider-dom. As parents divide them, Winslet and Lynskey’s passionate performances humanise demonised figures, so that their subsequent crime is as heartbreaking as it is harrowing.
Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh add flesh from context and diaries, detailing the bubbling broth of frustration, oppression, familial rejection and frowned-on friendship in the girls’ lives. Most potently, Jacko visualises their fantasies bleeding into reality, rendering visceral the youthful energies and multiple worldviews at play.
The frenetic pitch rarely lessens, true, and some FX now look overripe on this screen-popping BD. but Jackson’s intent holds up: to explore the blooming inner lives behind a potentially sensationalist story.
An engaging 30-minute extra sees film critic Kim Newman, FrightFester Alan Jones and TF’s own Rosie Fletcher reflecting on how the film changed perceptions of Jackson, whose lurid earlier works (Bad Taste, Braindead et al) here gave way to a bold, beautiful murder ballad rich in searching emotion, empathy and life.
He hadn’t made anything like it. Nor has anyone, then or since.
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