Cinema: Innocence on the Avenger

Billy Budd, which as a novel is a skinny English Lit cousin of Moby Dick and as a play was drydocked after a brief Broadway run, finds itself as a beautiful, terrifying and heartbreaking film. The transformation is the more admirable for the fact that Billy Budd is essentially a morality play with an unpopular moral: absolute good and absolute evil must always destroy each other.

Billy Budd, a handsome and guileless young sailor, steps on deck of H.M.S. Avenger one day in 1797, impressed into naval service at a time when the French threatened the British navy on one hand and...

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