It’s not uncommon for movies to be about characters overcoming adversity, which is the staple plot of many films. But a smaller group of those films are actually about hope — and of those, the movies that focus on children resonate most deeply.
They make a great impact on us when we see them as children, and even moreso when we see them as adults. After all, who among was not once a child?
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) is an unqualified classic that reveals new meanings on each viewing. Based on Harper Lee’s novel, the film follows young tomboy Scout Finch (Mary Badham)during a fateful year when her father Atticus (Gregory Peck in an Oscar-winning role) defends a poor black man accused of raping a white woman.
Scout and her brother Jem discover the ugliness of Southern racism, the dignified heroism of their father, and unexpected insight about their frightening, half-witted neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his film debut). In it’s quiet, elegant way, the film’s climax provides an indelible message of hope — and of basic decency overcoming cruelty and prejudice.
“Billy Elliot” (2000) follows an 11 year old boy (Jamie Bell) in a poor Northern England mining town, who discovers his love of ballet. Encouraged by a salty dance teacher (Julie Walters), Billy overcomes poverty, rigid gender roles, and the disapproval of his working-class father to realize his dream. In the process, everyone is Billy’s life is profoundly changed.
“The Secret Garden,” based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, has been filmed eight times, but never more eloquently than in Agnieszka Holland’s 1993 film. Petulant orphan Mary Lennox is sent to live at a remote English manor with her distant widowed uncle and his sickly invalid son.
With the help of a plucky servant boy, she discovers an overgrown secret garden (one of the finest metaphors in all of literature). She brings the garden, and her broken family, back to life in a stunning triumph of love over grief, and hope over despair.
“The Miracle Worker” (1962) is the unforgettable true story of blind and deaf Helen Keller (14 year-old Oscar winner Patty Duke), who is freed from her dark and silent world by her fiercely determined teacher Annie Sullivan (Oscar winner Anne Bancroft). To say that they don’t make movies with this kind of intelligence and power any more would be a profound understatement.
There’s a very good reason why the story of Helen Keller is still taught in schools, and why William Gibson’s play, on which the film is based, continues to be performed across the world. The film’s unforgettable climax (“It has a name, Helen!”) provides a profound, indelible message — of hope.