Tom Jones - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1963

Director: Tony Richardson

Production: Woodfall; Eastmancolor; running time: 128 minutes; length: 11,565 feet. Released 1963.

Producer: Tony Richardson; screenplay: John Osborne, from the novel by Henry Fielding; screenplay editor: Sewell Stokes; photography: Walter Lassally; 2nd unit photography: Manny Wynn; editor: Antony Gibbs; sound: Don Challis; production designer: Ralph Brinton; art director: Ted Marshall; music: John Addison; narrator: Michael MacLiammoir.

Cast: Albert Finney ( Tom Jones ); Susannah York ( Sophie Western ); Hugh Griffith ( Squire Western ); Edith Evans ( Miss Western ); Joan Greenwood ( Lady Bellaston ); Diane Cilento ( Molly Seagrim ); George Devine ( Squire Allworthy ); Joyce Redman ( Jenny Jones ); David Warner ( Blifil ); David Tomlinson ( Lord Fellamar ); Rosalind Knight ( Mrs. Fitzpatrick ); Peter Bull ( Thwackum ); John Moffatt ( Square ); Patsy Rowlands ( Honour ); Wilfrid Lawson ( Black George ); Jack MacGowran ( Partridge ); Freda Jackson ( Mrs. Seagrim ); Julian Glover ( Lt. Northerton ); Rachel Kempson ( Bridget Allworthy ); George A. Cooper ( Fitzpatrick ); Angela Baddeley ( Mrs. Wilkins ); Avis Bunnage ( Landlady at George Inn ); Rosalind Atkinson ( Mrs. Miller ); James Cairncross ( Parson Supple ); Redmond Phillips ( Lawyer Dowling ); Mark Dignam ( Lieutenant ); Lynn Redgrave ( Susan ); Jack Stewart ( MacLachlan ); Michael Brennan ( Jailer ).

Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score, and Best Screenplay. British Film Academy Awards for Best British Film, Best Film from any source, and Best Screenplay.



Osborne, John, Tom Jones: A Film Script , London, 1964.


Bull, Peter, I Say, Look Here , London, 1965.

Manvell, Roger, New Cinema in Britain , London, 1969.

Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the 60s , London, 1975.

Klein, Michael, and Gillian Parker, editors, The English Novel and the Movies , New York, 1981.

Barr, Charles, editor, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema , London, 1986.

Hill, John, Sex, Class, and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63 , London, 1986.

Richardson, Tony, Long-Distance Runner: An Autobiography , New York, 1993.

Radovich, Don, Tony Richardson: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, 1995.

Welsh, James M., and John C. Tibbetts, The Cinema of Tony Richardson: Essays and Interviews , Albany, 2000.


Cowie, Peter, "The Face of '63—Britain," in Films and Filming (London), February 1963.

Richardson, Tony, in Kine Weekly (London), 27 June 1963.

Variety (New York), 31 July 1963.

Baker, Peter, in Films and Filming (London), August 1963.

Milne, Tom, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1963.

New Yorker , 12 October 1963.

Cine Française (Paris), 21 December 1963.

Moller, David, "Britain's Busiest Angry Young Man," in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1964.

Battestin, Martin C., "Osborne's Tom Jones : Adapting a Classic," in Man and the Movies , edited by W.R. Robinson, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1967.

Villelaur, Anne, "Tony Richardson," in Dossiers du cinéma 1 , Paris, 1971.

City Limits (London), 11 February 1983.

"Albert Finney," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 30 August 1984.

Van Gelder, L., "At the Movies," in New York Times , vol. 138, C6, 15 September 1989.

Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 475, October 1991.

Walker, A., "Letters: Tom Jones at Home," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 3, December 1993.

Holden, Stephen, "An Angry Man Found Himself in Tom Jones ," in The New York Times , 21 August 1994.

* * *

Tom Jones is one of those films of ambiguous national status, registered as British, and made by a British cast and crew, but funded entirely by the London office of United Artists. As such, it is one of the films on which is negotiated the shift from the "committed social realism" of the early 1960s British cinema to the mainly American-funded "swinging sixties" films of the middle years of the decade. At first sight, being a costume melodrama (and an adaptation of a classic novel) set in the eighteenth century, Tom Jones would seem to be aberrant in relation to both the earlier films, and the different contemporaneity of time, place and energy of the glamorous and eccentric pop culture fantasies of the mid 1960s. But the film was a huge success, accruing four Oscars, garnering much critical acclaim, and doing record business at the box-office. To some extent, the success of this film paved the way for subsequent films to work in the same free-wheeling, light-hearted and sexually "permissive" mode.

Richardson was quoted at the time as saying "This is our holiday film. We thought it was time we made a really uncommitted film. No social significance for once. No contemporary problems to lay bare, just a lot of colourful, sexy fun" ( Daily Mail , 2.7.62). Even so, realism was still a key term in the publicity and critical reviews surrounding the film. As the Daily Mail 's reviewer put it, "a holiday

Tom Jones
Tom Jones
film it may be, but the master of screen realism is not letting glamour run amok on that account." Authenticity was assumed to be guaranteed by shooting entirely on location, and by seeking out "correct" period details in setting, props and costumes. Thus much of the power of the film depends upon the elaboration of such narratively redundant detail, fleshing out a richly detailed space within which the drama can unfold.

The reputation of the production team was important too. Richardson himself was a founder of and a prolific producer and director for Woodfall, one of the key companies in the film style and independent mode of production that characterised Britain's new wave. Osborne, who adapted Fielding's novel for the screen, was another of Woodfall's founders, and author of two of the plays that the company had adapted earlier, Look Back In Anger and The Entertainer . Finney, who played the lead role, had done the same in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning . And Lassally, the cameraman who had produced the gritty look of A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner , now used similar techniques for this period recreation: having attempted to achieve a realistic effect at one level through the authenticity of period detail, Lassally and Richardson pushed for a different kind of realism at another level by using contemporary documentary camera techniques wherever possible, including shooting on location, using light-weight hand-held cameras, comparatively fast film-stock, and natural light.

Without this veneer of surface realism and the cultural status of Fielding's novel, it seems unlikely that this spectacular and excessive period costume piece, with few of the moral or social commitments of earlier Woodfall films, could have been so easily accommodated by the British critics of the period. And, in fact, some of the reviewers of the film suggested that Tom Jones was far more socially relevant (because of its satire and its plea for tolerance) than the "superficially contemporary" films that had preceded it.

It is perhaps the question of style which enables the critic in retrospect to establish as strong a degree of repetition as of differentiation between the pre- and post- Tom Jones films. As with Richardson's previous two films, both canonised as realist films, Tom Jones displays an eclectic use of non-classical devices, many of them derived from the French nouvelle vague . Alongside relatively classical camera set-ups and scene construction, we find heavily stylised devices for shot- or scene-transitions; an obtrusive foregrounding of non-diegetic music; occasional use of under-cranked camera to speed up action; a particularly self-conscious use of montage sequences; and so on. But perhaps the most famous of Tom Jones 's stylistic touches is the frequent use of direct address to camera and other means of establishing a subjective rapport between spectator and film (justified as a means of reproducing the narrative voice of the novel). There is much debate amongst critics as to whether this style is "organic" to the film, or whether the film has been invaded by merely disconcerting camera trickery (which was the view of the more "serious" British critics). Either way, it was this type of pop-art modernism that characterised many of the subsequent British films of the mid 1960s.

—Andrew Higson

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