As war is about to break out, a party of wealthy English schoolboys is flown to the supposed safety of the South Pacific. But their plane crashes on a lonely island.
Initially, Ralph (James Aubrey) takes charge, sees the need for rescue and sets out tasks for the boys in a logical hierarchy. A fire must be built to attract passing ships. Then shelters must be erected.
The jungle is full of fruit trees and there is clean fresh water to drink, and a conch shell becomes the symbol of authority, and each boy who wishes to speak his mind must wait until the shell is passed to him.
Yet Ralph has his not-so-loyal opposition – the embodiment of something less cerebral in mankind. Its members are a flock of choirboys, angelic in black robes and caps, who come marching in military procession behind their chieftain, Jack (Tom Chapin).
Arrogant and cunning, Jack is the automatic rival of Ralph and the powers of reason, because Jack’s power is over the primaeval mind of violence and fear. Shedding their robes, Jack and his followers become hunters and start the manoeuvring that will divide and conquer established society. The jungle becomes a happy hunting ground for the painted warriors, full of pigs to slaughter in orgiastic celebration.
There are also fears of some undefined “beast” that several boys report they have seen. This terror is shaped into a superstitious cult (always the ally of brute power) and Jack mounts the head of a slain pig on a pole as a religious offering.
Flies hum about its dead snout and its inscrutable grin. It is the Lord of the Flies, a protector against dark evils – and only one of the boys, a mystical child called Simon (Tom Gaman), can grasp (though cannot communicate) its meaning and its danger.
Their little society begins to fall apart until, eventually, they revert to savagery and murder.
Ralph – the story’s hero – barely manages to hold on to his humanity, but defends the chubby, asthmatic Piggy (Hugh Edwards) against the bullies and strives to uphold the principles of civilised society.
This chilling and compelling film, adapted from William Golding’s striking allegorical novel, has many tense moments and is infinitely superior to the 1990 remake (which had American military cadets in place of the original English private school pupils).
Produced on a shoestring budget of $250,000 and shot on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, this experimental production, a seminal work of independent filmmaking, used an inexperienced cast and crew to relive the frightening fable.
James Aubrey died of pancreatitis on 6 April 2010 at his home in Cranwell, Lincolnshire. He was 62.