true crime

The movie that's infuriated the parents of murdered toddler James Bulger.

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.

Video via Twelve Media

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.

Chilling CCTV captured James Bulger being led away by his 10yo killers. Images: Getty.

“I don’t think [Lambe] had the right to do it … it’s been put on the shortlist now for the Oscar and I think it should be removed," she told British talk show, Loose Women.

“In my own personal opinion I think he’s just trying to big his career up. And to do that under someone else’s grief is just unbelievable and unbearable.”

In a statement issued in response to Ms Fergus' comments, Lambe apologised for "any upset" the film had caused the Bulger family, and insisted the film was not produced for commercial gain.

For him, it was about attempting to understand Thompson and Venables, to glimpse into their minds and try to grasp their motivation.

“The film is in now way sympathetic to the killers and does not attempt to make excuses for their horrendous actions," he wrote.

"A lot of people might feel it’s wrong to humanise those boys but I think if people can’t accept the fact that they were human beings they will never be able to begin to ­understand what could have driven them to commit such a crime. And the only way to prevent something like this happening again in the future is to understand the cause of it.”

Venables and Thompson were released from prison in 2001, though the former, now aged 36, has since been jailed twice on child pornography charges.

LISTEN: Why are we all so obsessed with True Crime? Is it the goriness? Or the simple attraction of a good story? We deep dive, on Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues below.)

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