Finch Fond of Mockingbirds
"A great movie adaptation of a great book" are the words I have read time and again in reviews of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and I am not going to disagree. But the majority of those reviews seem to have been written by those who studied Harper Lee's novel as part of their schooling and so have this deeper understanding of the book and various social significances that others don't have. I am one of those who doesn't have that deeper understanding, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not part of the curriculum at school here in the UK and so every time I have watched the movie it has been as a movie fan rather than as someone who studied the book. What does that mean? Well "To Kill a Mockingbird" is still a powerful movie, stunningly shot, brilliantly acted with a multi layered story which is captivating; the only thing is that it is a movie which you need to watch more than once to pick up on things if you have not read the book.
It is summer in the small Alabama town of Maycomb and Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford - Shenandoah) are playing with their friend Dill (John Megna) who all have a fascination with the Radley household as that is where Boo Radley (Robert Duvall - Crazy Heart) the local bogeyman lives. Their father Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck - How the West Was Won), a morally upright lawyer agrees to take the case of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man who has been accused of raping and beating a white woman. His agreement to defend Tom brings unrest especially from racist Bob Ewell (James Anderson) who leads the local trouble. As the case is played out in court it is clear that Tom never attacked or raped Ewell's daughter but in a racist town what hope as a black man of justice.
The first time I watched "To Kill a Mockingbird" it surprised me because whilst aware that it was a movie of racial significance I did not know that it was told through the eyes of Scout. But that is a clever thing because it means that the movie is more than just about the court case, we have this wonderful mystery surrounding Boo Radley and the Radley household that the children are warned to stay away from. Plus we have how Scout and Jem look up to their father who is not only morally straight but their hero with surprising skills. It means we have this multi layered story which starts with the fun of Scout, Jem and their friend Dill being children and going to school, the mystery of Boo Radley and then the big court case, oh and something else which I won't say what for those who do not know the story.
Now all of this is captivating, the performances are brilliant, Gregory Peck is pitch perfect as Atticus Finch, strong, upright and a caring father but then so is Brock Peters' performance as Tom, whose evidence in court is spell binding. But then the children are just as good and Mary Badham and Phillip Alford are as perfect as anyone else when it comes to playing Scout and Jem. And the simple reason why, the actors create characters of depth, it makes them come alive and feel real allowing us to connect and understand them.
But "To Kill a Mockingbird" is also visually stunning and director Robert Mulligan has delivered a movie which is a visual treat with scenes full of depth. It allows you to sink into the scene as whilst we may have Atticus doing something in the foreground there will be something going on behind, basically making it come to life. And you can add to this not just the use of music but also the use of silence to create a brilliant atmosphere especially when in the courtroom and you find yourself handing on every single word.
Now here is the thing "To Kill a Mockingbird" is with its story of a black man being accused of raping a white woman a movie of social issues and significance. And those issues are clear to see but I do honestly feel that the real power of the movie really reveals itself to those who have studied Harper Lee's novel. It doesn't mean that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is less powerful for those who have never read the book but there is more to it for those who know the story.
What this all boils down to is that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a very powerful movie, a movie which is captivating on so many levels from direction to acting. But whilst the brilliance of it is clear to see it is a movie which for me has greater meaning for those who have read the novel.