Detainment: Films should tackle serious issues but not this toddler’s murder – Jim Duffy

James Bulger was killed by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson on a railway line in Liverpool in February 1993 (Picture: PA)
James Bulger was killed by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson on a railway line in Liverpool in February 1993 (Picture: PA)
Share this article
Have your say

Jim Duffy finds himself shaking with anger and close to tears after watching trailers for Detainment, about the police interviews of the boys who killed toddler James Bulger.

There are crimes in life that leave an indelible and emotionally charged image ingrained on our memory.

They usually involve some form of violence, with the ultimate consequence being death or, in legal terms, homicide.

Even with so much brutality and violence prevalent in societies around the world today, there is one crime that I will never forget.

This particular miserable episode involved children using violence against a toddler. The James Bulger murder is one that I had tried to forget but it still brings back sad and angry memories.

And I have no doubt James’s parents, Ralph Bulger and Denise Fergus, experience such feelings much more strongly and almost every day.

But life has changed again for them and a short film called Detainment has changed it.

It portrays dramatised versions of the police interviews of the two boys later convicted of James’ murder, using transcripts and contextual evidence to recreate a version of what took place as both killers were found out.

I have watched the trailers for this movie. All three trailers are about a minute long. Having watched them, I simply could not now watch this film.

It makes me hugely angry. Just watching these trailers had me physically shaking with anger. My fists were clenched and my teeth were grating. I could feel my heart rate increase and red mist descend over me as I cursed at the screen. I almost became tearful.

READ MORE: Academy refuses to pull James Bulger film from Oscars despite family’s plea

Once the trailers were finished, I sat and reflected on what happened to the little toddler on 12 February 1993. My simple mind cannot fathom the evil and brutality that was meted out by two “children”. So, I guess you know where my head is on the murder and the two murderers.

But, rather than simply vent and argue that Detainment is abhorrent and should not be screened, nevermind shortlisted for an Oscar, I want to ask some soul-searching questions.

Film-making is an essential part of our lives. It gives us insight into human behaviours, emotions, attitudes and so on. Film-makers paint realities we could only imagine. Some create versions of history that we can learn from. Some films are a retelling of myths that have survived for centuries.

I have never watched the Omen and I do not intend to. I walked out of the cinema during Reservoir Dogs during a particularly awful scene involving the death of a police officer.

I love watching Martin Sheen in the Vietnam movie Apocalypse Now. And there is nothing better than a night with Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.

But, the thought of going to a cinema to watch Detainment is anathema to me. Yet, there will be many who will want to see this film and want to find out more about the tragic death of James Bulger.

And this is the dilemma that is tearing me up. There is anger just now directed at the movie-maker, Vincent Lambe. He wrote and directed the film, but he did not seek permission from James’s parents and did not even contact them.

READ MORE: James Bulger killer said murdering toddler ‘gave him a better education’

This has caused great pain, resentment, anger and debate. Mr Lambe has since apologised publicly, but his apology for many, including James’s mum, has come too late.

The movie is now firmly ensconced in the Oscar short-film list, having been backed by the Academy who have reinforced their impartiality in deciding to list the movie.

There is an online petition, that I have signed, now standing at 234,000 signatures, demanding that Detainment be taken off the Oscars shortlist and never be shown.

But, despite signing this and feeling resentment and anger towards Mr Lambe, while feeling so sorry for James’ parents, I’m grappling cognitively to try and cut through the emotion. But, should I even try?

Movies have already been made about 9/11, the Deepwater Horizon disaster and so on – events where human beings with loved ones have been killed in tragic circumstances. It seems we have to deal with death and learn to assimilate it into our lives and think about it in a rational way. But, as hard as I try, and you may feel the same way, I simply cannot compartmentalise the murder of James Bulger into a reasoned, sound and sober event that took place where an innocent wee boy was killed and two kids were locked up as a result.

Unfortunately, this particular crime does not warrant such a cool and scientific approach. It still cuts deep.

Notwithstanding the petition, the online arguments, appearances by James’s mother Denise on prime-time TV and the apology from the movie director, Detainment is up for an Oscar and will, in time, either hit a local cinema near you or appear on one of the streaming platforms.

There will be people who want to find out more. It may be simply curiosity, education, a history lesson or dare I say it – entertainment – that makes them watch.

If the movie does succeed in winning an Oscar, Mr Lambe’s speech will be studied in microscopic detail. My question is, will you watch it and why? Perhaps people of my ilk who vividly remember the murder, the outrage, the funeral and the look on the faces of James’s parents will give it a body swerve.