To Kill A Mockingbird

Yep, lots to like here in this much-loved and widely-respected adaptation of Harper Lee’s famous novel. Gregory Peck is on fine Oscar-snaffling form as noble lawyer and father Atticus Finch, but the film’s energy comes from the two performances by Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Finch’s two children, Scout (aka Jean-Louise, narrating the tale as an older woman) and Jem. They are irrepressible, seeking to explore parts of their town where gradually, you realise, it isn’t safe for them to be. Made in the 1960s and looking back at Alabama in the 1930s, the story’s concerns with racism in the deep south and its extolling of liberal values are present and correct here, but the scenes of Tom Robinson’s trial seem oddly flat to me – though I suppose these do capture the sense of resignation by the African-American community in the film regarding the character’s fate and the likelihood of justice being served (and, on that note, I always felt it was a shame that the audience doesn’t stand for Tom Robinson as well as Atticus as the courtroom empties). That said, even though the passage feels a little limp, it’s hard to deny that Peck’s best work comes during these scenes… it’s just a shame that he’s the only character exuding any kind of sustained passion. (****½)