Tony Richardson’s Oscar winning adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel plays on Turner Classic Movies on July 3. Here’s the feature I wrote for the TCM website:
A lusty historical romp with a cheeky sense of humor and a rollicking energy, Tom Jones (1963) was at once a dramatic and a comic change of direction for director Tony Richardson, a serious young British director and producer and a leader in the “kitchen sink” movement of social realist films. Henry Fielding’s 18th century novel “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling” is a sprawling satire of high and low society as seen through the adventures of a bastard infant, adopted and raised by a kind and just country squire, and a parody of romantic conventions and epic storytelling with elements of both wry wit and broad burlesque. Richardson’s film necessarily cut the 1,000-page novel down to a manageable size but otherwise is true to the tale of the young man sent from his home into the big city of London while pursuing the love of his life. What surprised audiences was the wicked sensibility. Richardson’s Tom Jones is no dutifully reverent incarnation of a British classic but a liberating translation of a comic masterpiece with a modern sensibility and a style inspired by the freedoms of New Wave filmmaking.
Tom Jones was the biggest project to date for Richardson, both financially and physically. His previous features – Look Back in Anger (1958), The Entertainer (1960), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and A Taste of Honey (1961) – were contemporary black and white productions set in the dreary realities of working class life. This big period production, shot in color, called for costumes and wigs, props and set dressing, numerous locations and a sprawling cast. There were horses and hounds to hire for the hunt scene, city streets and extras to dress, manor houses to find. Unable to finance it completely through Woodfall, his own production company, he turned to Hollywood and found a willing investor in United Artists, but he maintained control himself. He asked the acclaimed playwright John Osborne, who adapted his plays Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer for Richardson’s film versions, to adapt Tom Jones for the screen. It was “as near as John and I got to collaborating successfully on film,” according to Richardson in his autobiography, “The Long Distance Runner.” He loved the wit that Osborne brought to the script, but Osborne was resistant to do rewrites and Richardson was forced to rework the screenplay himself through pre-production and even during shooting.
Read the entire piece here.