Director: Robert Mulligan
“To Kill A Mockingbird is a model for literary adaptations, retaining seemingly inconsequential details along with major, heartbreaking, or deadly events – whether the children’s games, a hungry farm boy drowning his dinner in syrup, Finch shooting a rabid dog, the lynch mob outside the jailhouse shamed to their senses by a child, or the black community tensely following the trial in the stifling balcony – as Mulligan brings his experience in live TV production to craft a discreetly atmospheric, intimate character drama.” (394, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
I studied To Kill A Mockingbird at high school – a fair number of years ago now – and watching the film instantly transported me back to my teens. Despite having spent at least a term, if not an entire year, dissecting the novel I was hard pressed to remember any of the thematic threads running through the narrative. Luckily To Kill A Mockingbird does such a good job it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the book for more than a decade. And it reminded me why the book is taught, to this day (though not for much longer if Mr Gove gets his way!!), in schools across England.
While we may not live in America and therefore have little experience of the small towns in the deep South this lack of experience is not as detrimental as you think it may be. The lessons at the very heart of the narrative are universal – everyone is equal and treated as such.
Atticus Finch is one of the most powerful figures, in the film certainly and I would go so far as to say in cinema as well. As a lawyer he is obviously intelligent and well-educated but the real power of his character comes from his beliefs and the gentle way he is instilling these beliefs in his children. He’s commanding to watch yet throughout a series of difficult events he retains his calm demeanor, never once raising his voice or is hand, which only increases the level of respect his character garners.
From past reviews you may have gathered that in general I am not a fan of child actors – indeed a vast number of them drive me to distraction – but thankfully that is not the case here. “The children are terrifically natural in important roles, particularly the ingenuous Scout Finch played by nine-year-old Alabaman Mary Badham.” (394) Scout is fantastic and she has to be as the narrative is very much driven by here. After all these are her memories we are experiencing. She has this wonderful innocence about her, best illustrated when she unknowingly disperses a lynch mob just by talking to them, which for a wonder never becomes cloying or irritating. Thanks to her upbringing she accepts people as they are and cannot really see why some people behave differently.
Boo Radley has become a character synonymous with those on the fringes of society. As Errigo says he is the “[…] bogeyman of [the children’s] fantasies, and ultimately their savior, Boo Radley.” (394) Scout treats him with a gentle kindness and Atticus not only allows her to, but also encourages her behavior. Atticus is an excellent role model for not only parents, but all adults around the world, reminding us all we should be less judgmental, close-minded and cynical especially when it comes to passing our behaviors and beliefs onto the younger generations.
I’m glad to have watched To Kill A Mockingbird again, and as an adult this time around. It is a wonderfully constructed film with charming performances from the young cast and some vital life lessons at the heart of the narrative. In short everyone should watch To Kill A Mockingbird at least once in their lifetime.