Jon Venables and Robert Thompson‘s mugshots still haunt more than two decades later. Flushed cheeks, dazed expression, their schoolboy frames barely reaching beyond 4ft 6in on the height chart plastered behind them.
To many these 10-year-olds’ faces are synonymous with evil. The evil that saw them abduct two-year-old James Bulger from a shopping centre in Merseyside, England, on February 12, 1993. Beat him. Torture him. Abandon his tiny body on nearby train tracks.
The boys were convicted and sentenced to prison in November that year, in a case that attracted international headlines and an almost unrivalled level of public and political interest. Enough that 25 years on, Irish filmmaker Vincent Lambe produced a movie about these child killers that has been shortlisted for a 2019 Academy Award.
But at what cost?
While critics have applauded Lambe’s Detainment, James Bulger’s parents have expressed their fury that their personal tragedy has been turned into a ‘drama’, used as fodder for entertainment.
For the 30-minute movie, which was released on the festival circuit in 2018, isn’t about James or the devastation wrecked on his loved ones. It’s about Thompson and Venables, and stars two young actors who recreate the boys’ arrest and questioning.
The slain toddler’s father, Ralph Bulger, 52, told The Mirror that not only is the content of the film “offensive”, neither he nor anyone from his family had been contacted by Lambe prior to its creation.
“It has been 26 years since my son was taken and murdered and so I have seen many documentaries and news stories about him,” he said.
“But I have never been so cut up and offended by something that shows so little compassion to James and his family… to make a film so sympathetic to James’s killers is devastating.”
Though Mr Bulger understands the story of his son’s murder is of public interest, he argues Lambe’s film “brings nothing new to the table”, that it’s little more than an macabre exploitation of the horrific crime for ‘entertainment’. His former wife, Jame’s mother Denise Fergus, agrees. She has called for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to drop the movie from Oscar contention.