In 1964 it won Best Picture at the Oscars. In 1999 the BFI nominated the 51st Greatest British film of the 20th Century. Now, 55 years since it graced British cinema screens, Tom Jones is available on Blu-ray and will be returning to selected cinema screens later in the year. Based on Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel (which it condenses and deviates from wildly) the film was something of a watershed moment for British cinema. Not only was it an international success that showcased up and coming British talent, it also showed that within the Social Realist Kitchen Sink dramas that were then dominating the cinema a film that was big budget, irreverent and well-crafted could also emerge.
Tom Jones (Finney) is a renowned man. Or, should that be an infamous one? Described as an ‘incorrigible hero’, a ‘whoremaster’ and a ‘whistle drunk’ – he somehow manages to also be rather endearing. Beloved by most of the high society community in which he resided, mainly by the female residents and most greatly by the beautiful Sophie Western (York). Due to the difference of their social stations, he was born out of wedlock to servants but raised by the friendly Squire Allworthy (Devine), their relationship is near-impossible. When trickery at the hands of Allworthy’s nephew Blifil (Warner) results in Tom Jones being thrown out of the household, Jones finds himself travelling and ending up in all manner of raucous misadventures.
The film opens with a prologue filmed in the style of a silent movie, with titles instead of audible dialogue, and music that wouldn’t be out of place in Chaplin or Keaton feature. It’s climax is the reveal of in infant Tom Jones, his poor status parentage resulting in his being adopted by the squire, and the opening credits overlay his baby-self. Almost as if the future of the child is predestined, his boisterous future on-goings fated, the short period of innocence before lust takes over, at mercy of the events to come – which sums up the character of Tom Jones rather nicely. Finney, and the film itself overall, plays Jones, as the kind of man things happen to as a result of his not thinking of the consequences. He gives into vice and desire, either not wanting or being unable to think about what might happen next; something which endears him to some and alienates others in equal measure.
The film has a lot of fun with both the main character and the rest of the ensemble cast. Pitched in a manner that modern day audiences might think of being associated with the Carry On franchise; the film is boisterous and hammed up to the nth degree. The performances are played out with total gusto and absolute vigour. The dialogue is deliciously dry, witty and knowing. The tone is high energy and played for maximum laughs. The story is shenanigan packed and superbly suggestive. It’s also enjoyable for its breaking the fourth wall in terms of stop-motion, freeze frames and directly addressing the audience, through both looks and voiceover narration.
Tom Jones is a period drama that’s not quite your typical period drama; well-crafted British comedy at its finest.
Dir: Tony Richardson
Scr: John Osborne (screenplay) Henry Fielding (novel)
Cast: Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans, Diane Cilento, Joan Greenwood, George Divine, David Warner
Prd: Tony Richardson
DOP: Walter Lassally
Music: John Addison
Run time: 121 minutes
Tom Jones is available on 2-disc Blu-ray on 20 August 2018.