You can’t question Peter Brook’s bravery in the way he tackled William Golding’s chilling novel Lord of the Flies. The director assembled a cast of amateurs and shot the film on an island off Puerto Rico without a formal script, just a loose scenario. The gamble is only partially successful, as the dramatic power of the narrative is lessened in the hands of kids who look the part but mostly recite their lines without conviction.
Golding’s novel is an allegory about a group of English schoolboys who are stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash and descend into cruelty and savagery.
James Aubrey is the most persuasive as Ralph, the voice of calm and moderation, the embodiment of a fragile democracy which doesn’t last. Hugh Edwards is less effective as Piggy, the wise and knowing fat boy who is soon victimised. But Tom Chapin is wholly inadequate as Jack, the militaristic kid who rivals Ralph for the leadership. Others such as Roger Elwin as Roger and Tom Gaman as Simon are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
The slaughter of a pig and an altercation which results in the smashing of Piggy’s glasses are early indications of the violence ahead, and the kids are further spooked by the discovery of a 'beastie."
No doubt Brook was striving for spontaneity and a totally natural feeling, but the result is very uneven, not helped by languid pacing in the first hour. The last act, it must be said, is truly horrifying. The black & white photography is symbolic as there’s no sunny optimism in this tropical paradise-turned-hell.
How times have changed. The DVD is rated PG here; when the film was first released in the UK in 1963, it was given an X certificate. Generous extras include an Australian Teachers of Media study guide and an interview with Brook, in which he reveals the budget was $US300,000 — half of which went to the legendary Hollywood producer Sam Spiegel, who departed after a bitter falling out with the director.
Watch 'Lord of the Flies'
Friday 3 December, 7:30pm on NITV / Streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand
Saturday 4 December, 10:00am on NITV
Genre: Drama, Cult
Director: Peter Brook
Starring: Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards