Anne Perry is one of the leading authors of our time. She specialises in crime novels and is famous worldwide. But her books hide a very real tale of murder and everlasting regret. This insightful documentary reveals the genius and challenged mind behind the tome of her work.
If you like your murderers foaming at the mouth, crazy and spouting nonsense and mysteries with big "reveals" to the tune of creepy screeching violins - then this is NOT the film for you.
If you are interested in the present-day life of a woman who seems unable to understand why people don't want to sweep a violent crime under the rug the way she, her friends and her family have - then this will be a fascinating insight into the rather chilly persona of Anne Perry, crime writer and one-time teenage murderer.
It certainly helps when watching this (especially for Americans who are often unfamiliar with the details of the case) to have done some background research on what is known as the Parker-Hulme murder before you begin. (For those for whom this case is brand new I can recommend the documentary "Reflections of the Past" - here on Amazon - as a good starting point).
In a nutshell, in 1954, at age 15 Juliet Hulme (now known as Anne Perry thanks to a relocation deal) served only five years in jail for participating with her best friend Pauline Parker in (and some say master-minding) the bloody murder of Pauline's mother, Honorah Parker.
Basically the "Leopold and Loeb" of New Zealand murder trials - the case made international headlines with secrets, hypocrisy, lies and scandals galore - even by today's lurid courtroom drama standards. (Pauline's parents were not married but pretended to be and none of their children knew; Juliet's mother's lover lived in the house with the family in a bizarre menage-a trois with Juliet's father while Mrs Hulme appeared on radio shows giving marriage guidance advice to other women; Juliet caught her mother and her lover having sex and tried to blackmail them for money; the girls looked forward to becoming prostitutes one day; Juliet kept a diary as equally lurid as Pauline's famous courtroom diary but her mother had the gardener destroy it before the police came to question her darling daughter; Juliet's father had recently been fired from the University and was leaving under a cloud - and, of, course the ever- present question during the trial and beyond - "Were these two girls having lesbian sex?").
Besotted with her glamorous best friend, Parker - a working class girl who's house smelled of the fish market where her father worked - initially tried to take the entire blame for the murder but after finding out that the girls would not be housed together in a cozy mental asylum for a year or two and that her beloved Juliet might not even go to trial and would escape unscathed to England with her wealthy family- she implicated the object of her desire in the plot.
The sad fact of the matter is that lying came shockingly easy to Perry nee Hulme and she lied many times during the course of the whole affair - and has told several different versions of the events that occurred that day mostly designed to mitigate any personal responsibility in the crime (initially she claimed to investigators that she was not even there). The truth is she held Mrs Parker down by the throat while she helped Parker bash her skull in with a brick to achieve the over 40 wounds Mrs Parker received.
It was clear all along that Hulme was far from an innocent in the murder - but as a child of wealth and privilege she was allowed many "courtesies" in the investigation and during the trial that seem shocking by today's standards.
In the years that followed the girls' release - Parker all but disappeared into rural obscurity and refuses to give interviews while Hulme transformed herself into Anne Perry - a novelist known for churning out dozens of bloody and graphic murder mysteries mostly set in Victorian England.
What may be most surprising at the end of it all - is that present-day Anne Perry does not seem all that different from her days as Juliet Hulme - she still plays games with the truth and she is surrounded by a new group of sycophantic friends who live to protect her from the slings and arrows of life and who sing her endless praises, (One friend becomes tearful, waxing lyrically about how she "cannot ever leave" Perry until Perry is truly "happy"). The harshest comment about her comes from her brother (who was not even told by the family about his sister's crime until he was 13 - and only then because reporters swarmed the boat he and his father were traveling on and the family could no longer avoid the truth) and he only says that he thinks Anne has a tendency to "write to a deadline" rather than waiting for a great story to unfold.
Perry herself exists as the sun in these people's worlds, propped in a massive recliner chair while they literally revolve around her as if she were an invalid - struggling to type up her stories for her (her handwriting is so dreadful even she cannot decipher it at times); doing her research for her; driving her wherever she wants to go and answering her mail for her. And there, at the epicenter sits Anne - still sighing and complaining about how mistreated she has been and how boring it all is that people keep wanting to talk about "It".
What is clear from this film is that the Perry of today is, in fact, in need of very little "protecting" since she simply chooses not to face any kind of unpleasantness and simply re-invents every story in her life to suit her ever-opaquely changing persona. An example - despite a childhood of literal and physically heartbreaking abandonment by a chilly father and a hedonistic numbingly selfish mother who clearly saw her difficult daughter as an impediment to her own romantic life, Perry only anwers blandly that she got along "wonderfully" with her mother when they lived together after her release from prison (though one cannot help but wonder just how thrilled a mother who regularly abandoned a deathly ill child to distant relatives and hospital staff and who chose not even live in the same hemisphere as her child for years at a time took the news of her felon daughter's return to her life)
What is ultimately not so surprising in this film for those of us who are very familiar with Parker-Hulme lore is that when finally asked by the filmmaker to explain her behavior that day so long ago - instead of offering some self-realization or even a hint of genuine insight into her deadly teenage behavior and her bizarre and obsessive relationship with Parker - Perry offers us instead yet another story to explain her involvement in the crime (She now claims she "helped" because she was "afraid" of Parker and only "helped" because Parker "was bulimic" and to prevent Pauline from committing suicide - which may be the oddest "explanation" she has given yet of the crime).
So while this film offers little in the way of "Aha!" moments it does offer a fascinating insight into the enigma of a woman so self-absorbed and smoothly, blandly reflective that she still refers to the murder that changed her life as a "stupid mistake".
It is hard while watching this not to think of Fredrich Nietzche when he writes "for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” .
Anne Perry, author of dozens of successful mysteries, seems unwilling to solve the biggest whodunnit of her life, the murder of Honorah Parker. In 1954, a 15 year old Perry(then known as Juliet Hulme) and her friend Pauline Parker brutally murdered Parker's mother in New Zealand. Perry and Parker planned the murder because Honorah was seen as the main obstacle to them sharing a life together in South Africa where Perry was moving. After serving 5 years in prison Hulme was given a passport and new identity of Anne Steward and joined her mother in England. Twenty years later she became the successful mystery writer Anne Perry, with her crime and true identity successfully hidden. When her identity was revealed in 1994, she was forced to speak publicly about her crime. What strikes the viewer of this film is not so much Anne's reluctance to discuss the crime as the terms she chooses when she does talk about it. She refers to the murder as a big mistake and while blaming the crime largely on Pauline, never mentions the victim. Why? It's quite obvious she does indeed view the murder as merely an adolescent lack of judgment and not the extinction of a human life. Now, she sees herself as a successful writer who has put the past behind her and is the victim of journalists who want to bring up this "mistake". While the film attempts to deal with the psychological evolution of Perry from murderer to mystery writer, she manages to throw up walls at every attempt. The film itself moves quite slowly but Perry's silence reveals more than her well chosen words.
I have a fascination with true crime and knew about this case ever since Kate Winslet portrayed Juliet Hulme (Anne Perry) in the film Heavenly Creatures. I have read a lot about, and watched many a documentary on murderers, and rarely find perpetrators likable, but I found Perry particularly disturbing. She doesn't recognize the gravity of her crime even after all these years, she has made a successful career of writing about crime yet paints a rather surly portrait of her life in this film, and at one point mentions she needs to continue "healing." That was when my dislike for her turned to disgust. Healing? From what, exactly? The fact that she killed an innocent person? I suppose if she had said she needs to atone for what she did, the viewer might not believe her, but at least then she wouldn't be demonstrating such self-pity.
Her personality alone doesn't blight the quality of the documentary. The doc itself is slow moving and I found I kept it on in the background while doing things in the kitchen, not interested enough in the story to sit down and properly watch it.
Apparently, she was able to live in relative anonymity as far as the crimes went, while pursuing her novel writing under the assumed name, until Heavenly Creatures was released and people wanted more information on what became of the two girls. I wish this doc were more compelling, but the subject herself is an uninteresting enigma; I'm not sure anyone could have made an interesting film about her.