The Oscars eulogize the glamorous, the talented, and the deserving in the film-making industry. Or so one assumes. But tonight there will be one glaring exception: Vincent Lambe’s Detainment.
Named in the best live-action category, it’s one movie that, in my view, should never have been made, let alone nominated. And I’m not the only one offended. In Britain, this film has caused huge controversy.
For those not in the loop, the film centres on the deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching case of James Bulger. I still remember the night James disappeared, 26 years ago this month. It has stayed with me since.
People talk about the day Kennedy died and how they knew where they were. Well, I know exactly where I was when James was taken – in my kitchen listening to updates about this toddler, my heart clenched tight.
The cold-blooded killing of James over a quarter of a century ago defined a moment in British history – the night we lost our collective innocence as we waited for news about a little boy who’d been taken away by two ten-year-olds who’d planned to abduct a child.
These two killers, having kidnapped James, tortured him to death and left him half-naked on a railway line to be run over by a train. They were subsequently found guilty of murder — the youngest murderers in British history.
It was a horror no one could comprehend.
Subsequently, news of what happened to the killers surfaced periodically in the media (they were both released from prison in 2001, granted lifelong anonymity, and yet one of them re-offended and is back in jail for offenses involving child abuse images).
The one person we all learned about, admired, our heart broke for, was James’ mother – Denise Fergus. She was ever-present, fighting for justice, speaking up for her little boy, pressing for longer sentences than the eight years imposed, facing the media, again and again, the love for her son shines through at every moment.
In 2008 she set up the James Bulger Memorial Trust as a way of honouring her son by helping others. You can also find her on the Justice for James Bulger Facebook page.
Last year she wrote a book, ‘I Let Him Go,’ a heartbreaking account of what it meant to have lost James, a story about her son, a painful description of how the justice system had let her down. The book revealed a mother who was working through her grief and had managed to build a new life around her devastating loss.
Yet, here we are again.
The reality is that James’ memory is not hers alone, and she can’t keep it safe. That is the brutal truth of having your child murdered. You don’t get to grieve in peace; you don’t get to cherish their memory in private.
The story of her son is in the public domain, which means that anyone can use the facts surrounding the murder and do with them as they wish. This is an aspect of homicide that is particularly traumatizing – co-victims of homicide are re-exposed to media coverage of how their child or loved one was killed, and we often have little, if no say, in what is depicted.
But what makes me sick to the stomach this time around is the indecency of Lambe. I’m not talking here about the merits of the movie he has made.
Did we truly need to revisit this little boy’s murder again after so many years?
No. What beggars belief is the complete and utter lack of respect towards Denise Fergus and her family. Why? Because at no point whatsoever did Vincent Lambe inform her that he was making this film.
Apparently, Lambe did not think to contact James’ family about his project. Nor did he afford them the courtesy of informing them about the film’s release. One has to wonder at his motives for not bothering to get in touch.
Not surprisingly, James’ family is extremely distressed and angry. My stomach churns at the thought of what they must be going through – a sympathetic film about their little boy’s killers served up for public consumption. It’ll most definitely be a stain on the razzmatazz red carpet at the Oscars tonight.
In January, Denise Fergus told Britain’s ITV channel that Detainment had made her relive the nightmare of what had happened. She was unable to understand why Lambe had made the film. I agree. Perhaps he hopes to further his career?
Certainly, the media attention has indeed focused on him, but not in the glamorous light he might have intended.
I stand unequivocally with Denise Fergus. Why should a homicide survivor, a loss parent, have to revisit all the hurt and horror of their child’s murder when it serves no purpose?
Is it not enough that we have to face police investigations, trials, parole hearings, an endless trail of the legal system’s procedures? That we live every day with the traumatizing thoughts of our child’s final moments?
On top of all this, we also have to stand by while strangers expropriate our child’s memory without our consent, without even notifying us?
Detainment has nothing new to say. It doesn’t further our understanding or provides us with unique insight into what led to this horrific killing. It helps no one, apart from perhaps, those who made it.
An online petition requesting that the movie is pulled from Academy Award consideration has been launched. Even the detective who led the investigation into the killing has called on Lambe to show “decency” by withdrawing it from the Oscars.
When asked by Variety magazine how he felt about James’ family’s feelings, Lambe stated “I have so much sympathy for [them]”
To which my response would be, I very much doubt that. It’s one film I shall not be watching, Mr. Lambe. I’m signing the petition instead.
If you wish to donate to the James Bulger Memorial Trust Fund (they offer free holidays and respite care in their caravan near Blackpool to disadvantaged families, victims of crime, and the bereaved) please visit Just Giving.
Published on Still Standing Magazine 24.02.2019