Earlier this year, I read the book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ for the first time. I never read it at school, which is a shame as I thoroughly enjoyed it and wish I had read the literary classic before. Sadly, this year also marked the death of its author, Harper Lee, who was considered an icon within American literary history. So after reading this great book, I thought I should also watch the film.
All I knew of the film was that Atticus Finch was portrayed by Gregory Peck, who is one of my favourite actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The film itself was released just after that period ended, in 1962, two years after the book was published. The film is a brilliant adaptation of the source material, though some parts were absent or reworked, the major moments and themes of the book were kept in.
The story is told through the eyes of two young children Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), whose father Atticus (Peck) is defending a young black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) against an untruthful rape charge. The children are intelligent, curious and because of their father have an interesting perspective of the world around them.
Set in a fictional Alabama town in the 1930’s there are a lot of things going on in the film. As the children learn of the trial of Tom Robinson, and how the others in the town feel about it, you see their loss of innocence, their father losing in the fight for justice and the power of hurtful rumours. The film is a good representation of the racial inequality of the era, yet has also become timeless with its themes of innocence and racial injustice.
Peck is outstanding as Atticus. A single parent, his children roam free for most of the film, yet they clearly respect and love him, even if he is ‘too old.’ Even now, it is enjoyable to see such a loving relationship between a father and his children. In many ways, he is shows how a parent should be; educating a child in an open-minded way, and not inflicting any prejudice upon them. Though Jem and Scout do fall prey to the rumours about Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), through their father they learn to grow and mature. He is a role model, and not just to his children.
The scenes in the courthouse really show Peck’s strength. The calm, stated performance here shows that no one else could be Atticus Finch. He is powerful in his statement defending Tom, and the moment the black people watching stand for him as he passes is a heartbreaking scene that shows true respect for a man simply doing the right thing. The role defined his career and also won him an Oscar.
I would recommend this film to anyone. It has humour, drama and real tear-jerking moments. Peck is wonderful to see on screen in this influential role, and the supporting child actors play their parts well too. However, I will say you should also read the book.