The character of Billy Budd really is the main character and Terence Stamp's performance is a leading one not a supporting one. This is the standard supporting placement for a first time film performance. This is not that egregious of a performance placement as say Richard Burton in My Cousin Rachel because there are scenes without Billy, and it can be argued that Peter Ustinov as the ship Captain is also the lead. Billy Budd is the newest addition to the ship impressed by the British navy while he was working on a Merchant vessel. Billy Budd is an interesting character who is purely a good character who has a purely good view of life and of people. He never purposefully gives offense, and his only really problem is has a stammer that comes from being unable to express himself. Billy Budd is really a difficult character to get right actually because although he is simple in a way his goodness is pure in just the right fashion that it could have been very easy to make Billy a boring character or an unrealistic one, but Stamp succeeds in avoiding both of these potential issues. Stamp is never boring as Billy showing a clear strong screen presence in his first film performance.
He makes Billy a charming character with a natural charisma in his performance. Stamp finds the charm in just the simplicity of Billy as a character. In every scene where Billy eases through a potentially problematic situation, or when he inadvertently causes himself problems through his simple belief in doing what is right Stamp is always able bring to life a genuine innocence in Billy. There is almost an otherworldly quality about Billy's kindness as the Ship Captain says is almost as inhuman as the cruelty of the ship's Man of Arms (Robert Ryan). Stamp realizes this otherworldly quality brilliantly there is something special about Billy's kindness because Stamp is able to show how it comes completely naturally with Billy because there is never a forced moment in Stamp's performance. Stamp gives a good performance because of this that makes what happens to Billy truly heartbreaking because Stamp realizes the purity of Billy's optimism just that honestly.