November Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 12 years ago

It has been 50 years since To Kill a Mockingbirdgraced the big screen and yet it still retains a special place in the hearts of movie buffs. Released in 1962, two years after the debut of Harper Lee’s novel of the same name, and at a time when the civil rights’ movement in America was at its cusp, its exploration of issues of race and class were especially significant at the time. But its theme of struggling for justice and equality remain relevant even today, and combined with Gregory Peck’s unforgettable portrayal of Atticus Finch — one of literature’s most beloved heroes — makes this film one of the most important in cinematic history.

Adapted for the screen by Horton Foote — a screenplay for which he received an Academy Award — the film follows the lives of Scout and Jem, two siblings growing up in a small southern town in America which is divided heavily along racial lines. Their father Atticus Finch, a lawyer, is asked to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who has been accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The events that unfold are shown through the eyes of the six-year-old Scout, and as Atticus struggles to obtain justice for Tom, he teaches his children invaluable lessons about the importance of fighting for what is right. The story is not very groundbreaking but the simplicity and sensitivity with which it is executed is remarkable. There are several small moments that stand out, apart from Atticus’s inspiring summation speech at the courtroom. The scenes where he interacts with his children are particularly heart-warming. Another subtle but touching scene is when everyone in the courtroom quietly stands up in respect as Atticus is passing by, despite the fact that he lost the case and was unable to get Tom acquitted.

Undoubtedly, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of Gregory Peck’s best films. His understated yet powerful performance imbues the character of Atticus Finch with a quiet dignity. Peck received a well-deserved Academy Award for his performance, and his character was named the greatest movie hero of the 20th century by the American Film Institute. Mary Badham and Philip Alford, the child actors who play Scout and Jem in their first-ever roles, also do a wonderful job of portraying the innocence and charm of their characters.

The immortality of To Kill a Mockingbird lies in its message of tolerance and understanding of everyone, no matter how different from you they may be — something we all need to be reminded of every once in a while.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s November 2012  issue under the headline, “Black and White.”

Nudrat Kamal teaches comparative literature at university level, and writes on literature, film and culture.

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