• Aaron L. McGrath and Levi Miller in Jasper Jones. (Madman Entertainment)Source: Madman Entertainment
The classic Australian novel Jasper Jones, which deals with race and xenophopbia in a small Australian town in the 1960s is making its big screen debut and features an Indigenous actor in the title role.
21 Feb 2017 - 12:26 PM  UPDATED 21 Feb 2017 - 1:11 PM

It's been called the Australian version of To Kill A Mockingbird and now, just as the iconic American novel was immortalised in 1962, Jasper Jones has been given the big screen treatment.

The book, written by Craig Silvey, delves into the life of 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin growing up in 1969 in the fictional town of Corrigan in Western Australia, who gets dragged into the mysterious death of a young girl in the

The title character, Jasper Jones, is a mixed-race teenager played by Aaron McGrath who drags Charlie into this mystery and together they discover a few home truths about the adults in their town

The book tackles issues of race, Indigenous relations and xenophobia, all through Charlie's eyes, something which drew the initial comparisons to the great American book.

"I think all those parallels are spot on really. I mean Craig himself in the book references To Kill A Mockingbird and those great American gothic novels, and the book definitely has that sense of Australian gothic to it. So I think all of those things are in the film," actor Hugo Weaving said. 

Weaving plays the part of Mad Jack Lionel, the town recluse who has his own secrets, much like nearly every one else in Corrigan.

He's joined in the film by Toni Collette who plays Charlie's mum while Charlie is played by the in-demand, young, actor Levi Miller (Pan, Red Dog True Blue).

Director Rachel Perkins (Redfern Now, Bran Nue Dae) admits she was inspired by the classic American novel herself, and its subsequent film version, when approaching Jasper Jones.

"That book (To Kill A Mockingbird) is an iconic book of our lives and the adaptation is said to be one of the most successful film-to-book adaptations ever made, so of course I watched it and I was like 'OK how did they do that?'," she said.

"It's a fantastic film and it has a lot of similarities in that it's a young character realising the injustices of the world."

"They're learning about the weaknesses in adults ... and how disappointing adults can be, their own parents and the people who are meant to be looking after them. That's one of the things those two books have in common," Weaving said.

"But this is obviously very much an Australian story, an Australian tale, set in a very recognisable town that somehow we all know. So it feels distinctly Australian this story."

The forests of Pemberton in southern Western Australian where filming took place, adds to the mystery and secrecy of the film.

"I think this setting is absolutely perfect for all the nuances and details and hidden things within the town structure," Weaving said.

There is some darkness lying underneath the secrecy and little by little the young people in the story uncover these facts.

Perkins was impressed with her young cast all of whom could handle the emotional density of the plot.

"I think young people have a real sense of emotional truth. They interpret things, or at least these young people did, in a very truthful way. Young people today, we think they don't know anything and we try to cover them in cotton wool, but some of the things these young people go through in the film is stuff that happens to young people all the time," she said.

"What I love about this film is it's a great piece of storytelling. You do laugh out loud a lot, and then you're crying at the end. It really is what stories should be: a really emotionally engaging, wonderful, story that you can relate

*Jasper Jones is released in Australian cinemas on March 2