To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s outstanding novel, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch - perhaps his finest ever role.
Atticus is a stoic figure, a man of great inner strength and integrity. Peck seems to channel the spirit of the character so perfectly, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing him - although Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson were both potential choices.
Harper Lee was approached countless times - offers to adapt the book into movies, plays, even musicals. She rejected them all. With Peck, however, she said ‘In that film, the man and the part met’, calling the movie ‘a work of art’.
The character of Atticus was in part based on Lee’s own father; so beguiled by Peck’s performance, she presented him with her father’s pocket-watch, which he wore on the night he collected his Oscar for the role.
The film is a near-perfect adaptation; but, as is the nature of adaptations, it is a distillation of the source material. Told from young Scout Finch’s perspective, it’s a deeply moving tale of intolerance, compassion and ultimately, the death of innocence. The movie is forced to paint this with fairly broad strokes.
I’d encourage anyone to read the book. But don’t take my word for it - in a Guardian poll, British librarians placed it above the Bible as the book ‘every adult should read before they die’.
Sure, you were made to read it at school, maybe. Trust me, it gets better with the years. Put away the Anne Rice and dip into this real Southern Gothic story.