Film Nerd’s Choice: To Kill a Mockingbird
Director: Robert Mulligan
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Brock Peters, Robert Duvall
Synopsis: A classic adaptation of Harper Lee’s well recognised novel. Atticus Finch is a Depression era Southern lawyer given the task of defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking and abusing Mayella Ewell, a white girl. Atticus knows that Robinson is innocent, and has all the evidence to prove this is the case. Can he convince a jury to take the word of a black man over that of a white one??? The story is told through the eyes of Atticus’ children, “Scout” and “Jem”.
Gregory Peck is an absolute powerhouse of an actor, with a charm and charisma all of his own. He makes both a dashing Captain of the high seas (Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N.), as well as a dastardly revenge-addled whaler (Moby Dick). But Atticus Finch is perhaps the most significant role for which he will be remembered, and rightly so.
Peck’s performance is almost a direct transition of a character from a book leaping off the page and onto the screen. Atticus is an upstanding, non-boastful citizen despite having many talents for which he can rightly claim credit. He believes in justice and the legal system, and above all nis a good father to his children, trying to lead by example rather than subdue with discipline. Peck gives a quiet, measured performance, resulting in an explosion of energy when we finally see him in the court room. When he is front and centre, all the remaining cast seems to disappear. The performance is mesmerising, and reaches a crescendo with the inspiring closing address.
In addition to power though, the script, like the original book, leaves some space for deeper reflection. The events in the children’s lives parallel the main themes of acceptance of every human being, regardless of skin colour or level of social aptitude. Duvall’s role in this film was his debut feature film role. It is short, but played for impact, which it certainly has. I will say there are elements of the novel missing which I miss, including the “Mrs. Dubose” side story, for those familiar with the text, but overall this is a faithful adaptation that has as much impact on-screen as it did on paper. Even if the rest of the film were not so successful, Peck’s performance alone is worth any rental or purchase fee.
5 stars out of 5