Lord of the Flies Movie Versions

Instructor: Vivian Davis

Vivian has a PhD in English literature.

This lesson reviews the two major film adaptations of William Golding's classic novel 'Lord of the Flies'. We review Peter Brook's 1963 production and Harry Hook's 1990 version.

Book to Film

Since its publication in 1954, William Golding's Lord of the Flies has taken readers on a terrifying romp through the dark heart of mankind. Not just a simple desert island adventure story, the novel tells the tale of schoolchildren whose plane goes down on a tropical paradise, and the young survivors of the wreck quickly turn violent; they fight, kill, and enact spectacularly bloody rituals.

No wonder filmmakers have been eager to adapt this action-packed book for the big screen. We review the novel's two major film adaptations below, covering the basics of each adaptation, the films' critical reception, and information on related viewing.

Lord of the Flies (1963)

Director and Actors

The first and arguably most famous film version of Lord of the Flies is the 1963 black-and-white British production directed by Peter Brook. Brook is a pioneer director, notable for his extensive career in the theater; his work with the Royal Shakespeare Company is the stuff of legends.

As for the film's actors, a fourteen-year-old boy named James Aubrey played the part of Ralph. Aubrey was a relative unknown, as was the majority of the cast. Wanting to recreate the book faithfully, Brook famously sought to work with non-professionals for the film adaptation; he went to great pains to cast amateurs with little or no dramatic training.

Adaptation

Brook's stark film stays very close to the style of Golding's book and can be characterized as faithful adaptation of the novel. William Golding himself even approved. The characters and plot stay, more or less, unchanged: In the midst of war-related evacuation, the boys are stranded on a remote island. Savagery soon creeps into the boys' hearts and violence, murder, and mayhem ensue. Spoiler alert: Piggy and Simon still die, and Ralph and the remaining boys are still rescued at the end.

Critical Reception

While the film did receive some negative reviews upon its release (The New York Times referred to the film as 'curiously flat'), Brook's film stands today as a cult classic. It also stirred up more than its fair share of controversy when it was originally released.

Peter Brook, especially, came under fire for subjecting a cast of amateur child actors to the kinds of intense experiences depicted in the book, such as living in isolation, eating charred pig, and recreating disturbing rituals. While Brook's approach might make for an authentic adaptation, critics questioned whether or not his methods would cause lasting psychological damage on the cast of young actors.

Related Viewing

Interested in learning more about what the director and cast of the 1963 film were up to decades after the film's release? In 1996, Peter Brook was featured in a documentary called Time Flies that reunited the director with the boy actors from the original movie.

Filmed by the BBC, Brook and the former child actors meet once more in Puerto Rico where they shot Lord of the Flies. Over the course of a week's worth of filming, we learn where the director and actors are today and how the film changed (or didn't change) the course of their lives. The result is an intense, reflective documentary that's just as interesting as the film itself.

Lord of the Flies (1990)

Director and Actors

Flash forward almost thirty years, and we get a second major film adaptation of Lord of the Flies. Director Harry Hook's 1990 production offered audiences an updated, full-color version of Golding's famous novel. The lead role of Ralph was played by the then fourteen-year-old actor Balthazar Getty.

While Getty later went on to achieve some success on the big screen, Lord of the Flies was his first professional role. The movie marked the professional debut for many members of the diverse cast, including the young actors who played the roles of the antagonistic Jack and the wise Simon.

Adaptation

While not a radical departure from Golding's novel, the film is considered to be an Americanized and updated version of Golding's book. For example, we hear plenty of American accents in the film, and the children make references to contemporary American pop culture. Still, the major plot essentials remain the same: the group of boys turn wild, central characters still meet gruesome ends, and the surviving boys are inevitably rescued upon the film's conclusion.

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