Plot – Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his children against prejudice – To Kill a Mockingbird.
Director – Robert Mulligan
Released – 1962
There are many things that makes To Kill A Mockingbird, which shows just how much love and respect was put in by everyone involved in bringing Harper Lee’s classic novel to the big screen, with this love and respecting showing up in every carefully chosen frame and each nuanced performance.
While it’s true to say Gregory Peck had many fine performances throughout his career, In my opinion, none ever reached the levels of perfection seen in his portrayal of Atticus Finch. As Atticus, Peck uses all his talent to make the character his own, while keeping the wealth of depth and understanding seen in the source material.
Atticus is a man who believes in the integrity and the justice system, yet recognising it has failings, especially for those of colour, he also knows that doing his duty will cause hatred and venom towards him and his children by the citizens of the town in which he lives because of the level of segregation and racism that affected America at the time (Not that things have got much better since then).
When it came to the rest of the casting director Robert Mulligan faced an unenviable task. When making a truthful adaptation of a loved piece of literature, so much of the success depends not only on the casting of the main character but also the supporting cast who play pivotal roles.
For Jem, he chose Philip Alford, for Scout, Mary Badham, and for Dill, John Megna, All three of which were relatively inexperienced at the time, but it’s in this inexperience and Mulligan’s direction that makes their performances so believable and life so long in the memory.
Although not on screen for long, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of raping a white girl, also gives a memorable performance that included the most memorable scene of the film, in which he is brought to the witness stand and made to testify purely because he dared to help a white girl and he now faces almost certain death if convicted, and perhaps even if not convicted. It’s a powerful piece of acting and filmmaking, helping the audience to understand the levels of prejudice and hatred that he faced simply because of the colour of his skin.
There have been much more eloquent words written about To Kill A Mockingbird than what I’ve written, yet very few could do this film the justice it deserves. This is a timeless piece of cinema that’s as culturally important today as it’s ever been.