‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, or ‘Pleeease don’t kill my favourite book’ by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on March 8, 2013


My love for Harper Lee’s incredible novel To Kill A Mockingbird is deep and everlasting. From the moment my dad handed me a copy when I was 12, I was addicted. Scout, Jem and Atticus were the perfect companions for my tweenage angst; Scout with her mouthy tempestuousness, Jem as the brave brother I never had (Niamh, you’re still great though, by the way), and Atticus the kind parental moral compass every teenager needs. I’ve come back to it many times in the last 10 years (WHERE did the last decade go?); every time I read it, it makes me feel serene. As a result, I have avoided seeing the film for as many years, precisely because I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone ruining my beloved book. If I were on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 2, it’s the book I would pick to take with me.

Dashing AND Upstanding

Dashing AND Upstanding.

In recent years, however, I’ve grown to adore other less-fictional beings; one of whom is Gregory Peck. If you haven’t seen Roman Holiday, I urge you to go out and rent it ASAFP (the F is for ‘feasibly’). When I realised it was he who had portrayed my dear Atticus, suddenly the film version of my favourite book seemed far less frightening. Therefore it came to pass, dear reader, that I found myself on a peculiarly sweltering March night curled up on the sofa watching this epic (two hours and nine minutes) movie.

And I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not only was Mr Peck on fine, fine form (in glasses – phwoar), but the supporting cast were suitably excellent also. Special mention to Robert Duvall, whose first appearance is perhaps not as benign as the filmmakers first anticipated. I was scared half to death. At the 35th Academy Awards in 1962, the film was nominated for eight Oscars. It was unsurprising to learn that Mary Badham and Gregory Peck were both nominated for their performances, although sadly Badham lost out to Patty Duke as Helen Keller.

The courtroom scenes

During the film I responded emotionally in all the right places – the terror at the children running up to Boo Radley’s house and the fear of injustice during the courtroom drama. The book was obviously never far from my mind, but I felt that the film handled the moral lessons of the book without actually feeling like you were being taught a lesson.

If you’ve never read the book, I insist you read it first. It is completely wonderful, full of life and joy, and humanity in all its horror. Lee addresses some thoroughly contemporary issues, including racism, sexism, gender roles and the difficulty in battling societal prejudices. What I really admire about this film (apart from Gregory Peck wearing a suit and glasses like the hipster lawyer of my dreams) is the way it handles these issues with the same delicacy and gentle coaxing of the original text. It is a magnificent film, and I’m glad I finally saw it.

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident movie reviewer. You can catch her column, Here. Hare. Here., every Friday.

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