There are few books as stunning and communal as To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee wrote a piece of smalltown America into the bigger issues of her generation. To witness that is stunning and a genuine pleasure. An adaptation of her work was inevitable. To Kill a Mockingbird gives Gregory Peck a leg up as Atticus Finch, a role which provides him more than a few grand and exacerbated scenes. He is the focus of this feature on name alone, for the text this Robert Mulligan feature adapts had different tones and other stylings to it. Skipping through the text, pulling out the most intense of scenes and barebones of characters, To Kill a Mockingbird is a change of pace from the text, but that does not mean it is uninteresting or a failed adaptation.
Far from it. To Kill a Mockingbird has perfected and refined its characters in that charming, 1960s fashion. Characters brought to life with intense and dedicated performances. Beyond Peck are more than a handful of deserving, lesser-known performers taking on heavy subtext and strong roles. They are on that level beyond just acting. Stealing the show is a necessity for a role charged by the mood of the times. To Kill a Mockingbird was not just a fictional piece on the growth of a young pair of siblings but the new world around them and how that too grows.
Detail is thrown at an audience and scuttled through incredibly quickly. It loses some of the prose, but the offset is a grand imagining of America right in the throes of the Great Depression. Peck gives a moving performance, but he has an easier run of it than he would if the feature had stayed true to the book. Here he deliberates all the great consequences of his children, but without their own individualised flutters with life, his poetic lessons fall on deaf ears. At least it is not lost on the audience, who can pick and choose the notable moments for themselves. To Kill a Mockingbird and the performances within are broad enough to feature much of Lee’s intentions and messages, but adapt them thoroughly well to the new ideas of the next generation. The book never has that problem, timeless as it is, but Peck and Mulligan work tirelessly to make sure the same can be said of the film.
Where To Kill a Mockingbird differs from the book is in focus and intention. The message is still the same. Do no harm to others and don’t judge them either. But Mulligan’s work here expresses a courtroom dramatisation. It will leave much to be desired for those looking for a faithful adaptation of the Harper Lee classic but provides just the right layer of detail to the slow-burning story of childhood innocence clashing head-on with the strains of adulthood. The surprise appearance of Robert Duvall as Boo Radley is an odd one, but a welcome one too. To Kill a Mockingbird changes the narration’s point of view from childlike confusion to adult dismay. It does not shake the narrative as violently as first thought, but it does enough to change the perception of the people within it.