Atticus Finch: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest books ever written, it is studied in schools, universities and by literary professionals all over the world. The impact it has had is unquantifiable but is considered by experts to be significant. Just two years after the release of the book, Universal Pictures released an adaptation starring Gregory Peck and directed by Robert Mulligan. The film became an instant hit, winning 3 Oscars and was quickly regarded as one of the most important cinematic experiences ever released.
In case you didn’t already know, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of Atticus Finch and his two children Jem and Scout. Set in Depression-Era Alabama, small town lawyer Finch is asked to defend a falsely accused black man against a charge of rape. As the film continues Finch must protect his family and his beliefs against the racist community that is after his blood for protecting the accused.
The film is focused on Jem and Scout and how they are forced to quickly grow up due to the community they reside in. As they explore their neighbourhood, sit in the courthouse and interact with community members, they learn earlier than they should about the troubles of adulthood and gradually lose their innocence. It is a powerful and timeless message, one they resonates just as much in our current society as it did in the 1960s. It saddens me that if the film were set today they would be able to make it accurate because there is still extreme racial prejudice. It is scary to think that in the 80 years since this film is set that the world hasn’t really grown, hate has just changed focus.
To Kill a Mockingbird is anchored by the exemplary performance of Gregory Peck. Peck is one of my favourite actors, capable of greatest in any genre and almost any role. Atticus Finch won Peck an Oscar and is rightfully considered the best performance of his career. Peck’s Finch was even named by AFI has the greatest hero in cinematic history. The celebration is wide-spread and warranted, his performance is quiet but profound with Peck truly becoming Finch, presenting the audience with the perfect champion against injustice.
Also outstanding are the performances from the children. Sadly neither has managed to have a fully-fledged career but Mary Badham as Scout (Oscar nominated here) and Phillip Alford as Jem are both stunning. Mulligan decided to film them inconspicuously, treating the situation as play-time rather than work. The performances are genuine and the childlike wonder each of these kids has will fill your heart with joy. They are beloved characters and the best child performances I’ve seen.
One aspect that seems to get overlooked is Robert Mulligan’s direction. With a producing credit as well, Mulligan was placed to take the film in any direction he wanted. Instead he remained as faithful to the novel as possible, making next to no changes. He also made bold filming choices, including the famous one-take of Finch’s closing statement and the treatment of the child actors. Every choice he made greatly benefited the film and because of his dedication Mulligan delivered a cinematic achievement.
To Kill a Mockingbird is perfect, or as close to perfect as we’ll likely see. Through though-provoking messaging and some of the most loved characters put to screen, the film is a timeless classics that is as important now as it was in 1962.