A film about the murder of toddler James Bulger in the United Kingdom in 1993 is up for an Oscar, and the child’s mother is fighting the Academy’s choice to keep it on the shortlist.
At just two years of age, Bulger was abducted from the New Strand Shopping Centre at Bootle, Merseyside, before being beaten and killed four kilometres away at Walton, Liverpool. Two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, were convicted and incarcerated. They remain the youngest killers ever convicted in the UK.
Detainment is a 30-minute film based on the transcripts and records from the 1993 investigation that followed the murder. Bulger’s mother, Denise Fergus, is calling to have the film removed from the Oscars shortlist, where it is nominated in the category of Best Live Action Short Film.
She is offended on a number of levels: not only by the director neglecting to seek consent from the family before making the film, but also by the concept of a young actor being asked to portray her son moments before his death.
“It’s one thing making a film like this without contacting or getting permission from James family [sic] but another to have a child re-enact the final hours of James’s life before he was brutally murdered and making myself and my family have to relive this all over again!” she said in a statement shared on Twitter.
This is all I want to say at present. pic.twitter.com/GbyshtVoa9
— Denise Fergus (@Denise_fergus) 22 January 2019
Fergus is furious that her calls for the film to be removed have been met with apparent indifference.
“After everything I’ve said about this so called film and asking for it to be removed, it’s still been nominated for an Oscar even though over 90,000 people have signed a petition which has now been ignored just like my feelings by the Academy.
“I just hope the film doesn’t win it’s [sic] category in the Oscars.”
Director Vincent Lambe maintained he meant no harm to the family and was not hoping for financial gain, nor expected the film to garner the level of recognition it has received.
Lambe said his motivation was to explore the concept of inherent evil when it comes to the two ten-year-old killers, saying in a television interview on Good Morning Britain, “People think they were evil and they were born evil and I don’t think it was as simple as that.”
Lambe’s argument is that of an artist. Exploration of the human condition is what many films, books, visual works and songs are all about. Good and evil, right and wrong – and the grey areas between them – are the forces that fuel most stories in human history. In the case of true stories, however, nothing is ever simple; real life and real humans are messier than fiction could hope to be. It’s difficult, for example, to say that it was purely “right” or “wrong” for Lambe to create this film.
While many condemn Lambe for “humanising” the killers, who are generally portrayed as purely evil, Lambe maintains that understanding their absolute humanity is essential to understanding and preventing the circumstances that lead to horrific crimes like this. It begs the question: can one really “humanise” boys who are, in fact, already human, and nothing more than that?
Whether or not it was necessary to make the film, the deed is done, and it’s clearly got some merits according to the Academy. However, in the case of the family grieving a murdered child, perhaps some consultation on Lambe’s part wouldn’t have gone astray.