The film adaptation of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman feels inevitable. Her previous novel, To Kill A Mockinbird, to which Watchman is a sequel, was adapted for the screen in under two years and was hot. It was nominated for eight Oscars, winning three: for Best Actor Oscar (Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction. Putting aside the relative merits of the novel itself, adapting Go Set A Watchman doesn’t just feel inevitable — it feels necessary.
For now, the trail is cold. Harper Lee said ahead of this novel’s release she isn’t entertaining adaptation pitches until the book completes its international publication. Universal, which owns the rights to Mockingbird, is the place to start. But the feeding frenzy is apparently on in Hollywood.
Some prognosticators feel adapting the novel, based primarily on a 50-year old property unfamiliar to younger viewers, is something that will have trouble getting big-studio support. Another point of dissention may deal with the subject matter of Watchman, which exists — without spoiling anything — in the tumultuous Civil Rights movement in the South, and buried family secrets regarding the Finches’ past upend predisposed notions of these beloved characters. “Never bet against a movie adaptation of a book this popular,” Phil Contrino, the vice president and chief analyst with Box Office magazine. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the near future. Although, it seems to be a polarizing book and that could hurt it commercially.”
Let’s have a little fun. Say the film is greenlit. What next? Casting Atticus, now in his advanced years, and an adult Scout Finch is key. George Clooney, though still shy of Atticus’s 70 years by the time of Watchman, springs to mind as a worthy successor to Peck. Watchman has Scout at 26, so how about Kristen Stewart? She has chops beneath that morose, external attitude; she became the rare American to capture a César Award for her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria. Shailene Woodley and Hailee Steinfeld could also compellingly fill Scout’s shoes.
As for a director, the possibilities are endless. Spielberg feels like the obvious choice, but it also feels trite and a little lazy. The best possible director for this material: Ava DuVernay, the eye behind Selma.
Go Set A Watchman will see the silver screen, you can bet the house. It’s just a matter of when, and with who, and in what capacity.