The 'Tom Jones' Premiere Offers a Delightful, Frothy Romance

Solly McLeod and Sophie Wilde in "Tom Jones"

Solly McLeod and Sophie Wilde in "Tom Jones" 

Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE.

The new Tom Jones mini-series romps into our lives. Written by Gwyneth Hughes (Miss Austen Regrets) and directed by Georgia Parris, its prettiness, gorgeous rural settings, great clothes, and good-looking leads are enchanting. It’s a light-hearted, fast-paced, and entertaining adaptation of Henry Fielding’s picaresque novel The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749), with some unexpected emotional moments to enrich the comedy.

Tom: Can a man ever be a gentleman if he doesn’t know who his father is?
Aunt Bridget: Kindness and good conduct make a true gentleman. Look forward!

Squire Allworthy (James Fleet) is just what his name suggests; a tolerant magistrate, beloved by his servants, a childless widower who married for love (rare in this era), living a contented life at Paradise Hall with his sister Bridget (Felicity Montagu). Returning from a trip, he finds a newborn baby in his bed. His housekeeper offers to leave the baby at the church, the standard move, but to everyone’s astonishment, the Squire orders her to find a wet nurse. The mother is Jenny Jones (Isobelle Molloy), servant to the village schoolteacher, a bookish girl who refuses to name the father, although it’s not her employer. He disappears from the story (probably).

Meanwhile, romance comes to the household in dashing Captain Blifil (Edmund Kingsley), who woos and marries Bridget. Blifil disapproves of Allworthy’s adopted child, Tom (like everyone else he believes Allworthy is Tom’s father), and shouts to Bridget through the bedroom door as she’s in labor, “It had better be a boy!” She obliges with son, William, now heir to Allworthy’s estate. Blifil, watching the two babies play together, asks Allworthy to make Tom William’s servant, and seconds later drops dead.

Picture shows: James Fleet as Squire Allworthy, seated under a tree on his estate and enjoying a snack.

Squire Allworthy (James Fleet).

Credit: Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

The two little boys grow up together, a chalk and cheese pairing, with Tom generally adored and always in trouble, particularly with their tutor Mr. Thwackum (Robert May). William is not nearly so popular. Tom befriends a local rogue, poacher Black George Seagrim (Dean Lennox Kelly), who teaches him to hunt and shoot pheasants. There’s another adopted child in the neighborhood, Sophia (Kimara-Mai Petit), the grandchild of Allworthy’s neighbor Squire Western (Alun Armstrong). She’s come from the other side of the world, the daughter of an enslaved woman and Western’s deceased son.

Her first encounter with Tom is when he’s up a tree in the graveyard with a slingshot shooting pigeons. A pebble drops into the carriage, where Sophia’s Aunt Western (Shirley Henderson) lectures her on her future behavior (grateful and obedient). When they arrive at Western Manor, Western bursts into tears, seeing his dead son’s face in his granddaughter. Gravely, little Sophia speaks for the first time: “Do you want to see my stone? It came down from heaven.” And so starts an affectionate relationship between them.

She and Tom meet for the first time as children when he runs onto Western’s land to retrieve a pheasant he’s just shot, and Western captures him, threatening him with the full force of the law. Sophia attacks her grandfather, hitting him while he laughs uproariously, and Tom escapes. At this point, Sophia is sent back to her Aunt to learn to be a lady, and she and Tom are both grown up when she returns.

Picture shows: Tom Jones (Solly McLeod) in a garden

Tom Jones (Solly McLeod).

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

Tom (Solly McLeod) enjoys a privileged life. Everyone likes him; he’s handsome, good-tempered, and sweet, a cross between a frat boy and a golden retriever. Yet he is aware he does not truly belong to the privileged world in which he lives since he has no known father. We see him first as an adult smiling at maidservants, appearing and disappearing among the waving linens, charming, handsome, elusive. He still hangs out with Black George, who continues to poach Western’s pheasants and now has a brood of pretty daughters. His eldest, Molly (Lucy Fallon), tumbles Tom into bed whenever she can, and Tom is only too happy to oblige. Life is good!

Tom’s cousin William (James Wilbraham) resents Tom’s popularity and challenges his uncle about Black George’s poaching, which has until now been ignored or tolerated. Put on the spot, Allworthy stands for law and order: “Property must be protected, or the world will end.” When Tom visits the Seagrim’s house next, he finds Black George has been arrested.

Sophia Western (Sophie Wilde) returns to the neighborhood, accompanied by her sophisticated city-bred maid Honour Newton (Pearl Mackie), unimpressed with country life. Sophia finds she’s expected to ride to hounds with her grandfather, and although he’s presented her with a beautiful grey horse, she’s unenthusiastic. She’s also expected to go husband hunting. Then Tom turns up with a bunch of flowers he claims he picked for her (“although obviously, I didn’t know it at the time”). He’s come to save Black George, and Sophia fits right in with his plans.

Picture shows: Poacher Black George Seagrim (Dean Lennox Kelly) and his daughter Molly (Lucy Fallon). He looks threatening and holds a large knife, and she looks smug.

Poacher Black George Seagrim (Dean Lennox Kelly) and his daughter Molly (Lucy Fallon).

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

He tells her all about Black George and asks her to suggest hiring him as his gamekeeper. Who better for the job than a retired poacher? It makes perfect economic sense, too, so the Seagrim family doesn’t deplete the parish resources. Of course, Western agrees; he’ll do anything for Sophia. But the next time Tom visits the Seagrims, Black George throws him and Molly dirty looks and conspicuously sharpens a large knife. At church, following blatantly flirtatious eye contact between Tom and Molly during the sermon, as the congregation leaves, Molly pretends to faint. She hauls Tom off and announces that she’s pregnant and he’s responsible.

Black Jack takes his daughter to the magistrate, who happens to be Squire Allworthy. Molly sees her dilemma as the means to rising in the world as she admires Paradise Hall. Allworthy tells Molly to name the father as Tom joins them and offers to marry her. That’s not what Allworthy wanted! He tells Tom not to see Molly again and that he will pay the Seagrims off. Tom is taken aback but meets with her, explaining he is powerless in this situation, with no money, parents, or standing, only the love of his adoptive father. Molly’s unimpressed and gets down to other business. “You can’t get me pregnant twice,” she says, but Tom turns her down.

As he’s making his way home, the hunt gallops by, and Sophia, not enjoying the experience at all, loses control of her horse. Tom steps in to help, and she falls, landing on top of him and breaking his arm. It’s downgraded to a sprain at Western Hall, where Sophia insists Tom must stay to recover. After dinner, as Western nods off after copious alcoholic refreshments, they talk quietly by candlelight, falling in love. She remembers little of her father, who gave her freedom, just the scent of tobacco and brandy. Her mother, an enslaved woman, died in childbirth.

Picture shows: Sophia (Sophie Wilde) peers through a doorway to watch Tom.

Sophia (Sophie Wilde).

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

Honour is not impressed with Tom; Sophia’s seen Tom and Molly wandering through the woods, and almost certainly, she knows about their relationship. But she defends Tom, telling Honour that he doesn’t make her feel like an exotic flower, which she is to every other man in the neighborhood. We saw how the men at the hunt stared at her but ignored her; lust, greed, and prejudice combined. As an heiress, she will be obliged to marry someone with money and status and have little choice.

Meanwhile, Tom is around, ready to flirt and charm. She drops a basket of apples, but not on purpose; she says as he helps pick them up, both flustered and smiling. He returns a handkerchief she mislays, then she shoves it back at him, telling him she has plenty more, spoiling the moment. Sophia teaches Tom to dance in the garden, and they play cricket with her grandfather. It’s all romantic and idyllic; you know it can’t last.

Tom makes a last call to the Seagrims’ cottage, planning to offer financial support to Molly. The family is not welcoming, but he makes his way upstairs, and Molly reluctantly opens the bedroom door. Tom discovers Mr. Thwackem, stark naked and terrified, behind a curtain. Clutching a tricorne hat to cover himself, he tells Tom that neither of them is the baby’s father, and neither of them was Molly’s first and only love, as she claimed. Molly, more annoyed than anything else, tells Tom to go away.

Picture shows: Aunt Western (Shirley Henderson) and Squire Western (Alun Armstrong) decide on Sophia's future. They are sitting on a sofa, wearing very fancy clothes, and drinking –– tea for Aunt Henderson and wine for the Squire.

Aunt Western (Shirley Henderson) and Squire Western (Alun Armstrong) decide on Sophia's future.

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen and MASTERPIECE

Aunt Western arrives to get Sophia’s future straightened out. Young gentlemen will flock, she says, but although Sophia is rich, she’s a bastard and Black (Aunt Western is not shy). She must be married off. Her target is William Blifil, and she suggests to Western and Allworthy that Sophie is falling in love with him. It’s a great match from their perspective, uniting the two families and estates, although Allworthy suggests that love should enter the equation. Sophie is horrified by Blifil.

What can Sophie do? She has no part in the decision, and she’s fallen in love with Tom. And what can Tom do? You do have to wonder why Allworthy didn’t make plans for his future, but maybe, like everyone else, he just enjoyed Tom’s company. We’ll find out next time.

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Tom Jones

Two lovers follow their hearts in a new adaptation of Henry Fielding's novel.
Tom Jones: show-poster2x3

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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