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A horrible waste of a good opportunity
on 16 May 2009
Perhaps this was doomed to mediocrity from my point of view, because I have read and loved the novel on which this was based.
It falls at many hurdles, not the least of which are: the horrible machete-job done to the plot; the distortion of key characters; the PC'isation done, presumably, to not offend anyone (seemingly a capital offence these days); and some woeful acting from the supporting cast, in particular, the actor who plays East - who to me, seems about as capable of delivering his lines convincingly as a six year old in a Nativity play. He also seems to be younger than Tom, which is totally at odds with the book.
1/ Tom is now something of a boorish oaf, who borders on open rebellion against the Doctor Arnold's new ways, which is a departure from the book. Tom was always a good lad in the book, if somewhat prone to being rather inconsiderate and laddish, to use a modern term.
2/ Why in the name of Thomas Hughes's grave-bound spinning remains, does George Arthur die? It didn't happen in the book and it doesn't serve any purpose other than to make all the female viewers go "aaahhhhhh" at Tom's tears.
The manner in which he dies also means Flashman has effectively committed manslaughter, which in my view is totally inappropriate.
To have his funeral as the last scene in the film ends the entire thing on a massive downer and is something for which the chief writer deserves to be sent to the Tower for (the Tower of London, not the Birching Tower at Rugby, or to give it the ridiculous name this film does, the "Caning Tower").
3/ Some seriously flaccid script writing. Tom says things sometimes that, if included at all, would be the viewpoint of a 40 year old Old Rugbeian, not a 13 year old boy.
4/ The book covers Tom's career as a Rugbeian from twelve or thirteen years old, right up until he's nearly nineteen and leaving. Like other adaptations before this, the story of this film seems to cover only one or two terms at the school before ending. Of all the actors who've played Tom Brown, Alex Pettyfer is probably one who could have been depicted as being several different ages in the same film.
John Howard-Davies looked (and sounded) like an androgynous six year old chorister and nothing anyone could have done would have made him look or sound any different, Pettyfer was a different matter, even if his voice had already broken.
But in true defiance of Jeremy Clarkson's opinion of amateur reviewers, I have given this three stars, not one. So what are the redeeming features?
1/ Stephen Fry. Seriously, this man could be in a documentary about buttons, cow-pats or teaspoons and make it interesting and redeemable. There are a few scenes with him that are complete inventions, but he conveys that which Robert Newton (the actor who played Arnold in the only other adaptation of TBS that I've ever seen) conspicuously lacked: humour, warmth and sincere affection.
H was apparently completely had by one of the actors (I think the one who played Hall) during filming, after he accidentally hit him across the hand with a cane for real when filming one scene. The next day he asked him if he was alright and the lad said, "Well, they took me to casualty and the doctor said it's only a cracked bone, so yeah, I'll be fine."
A mortified Fry was thinking, "Oh my God, what have I done?!" when he saw the grin starting to surface and realised the "little git" had been playing him along.
2/ Alex Pettyfer does a pretty reasonable job of being Tom Brown. Any complaints I have with the character are with the awful lines he's been given, and the way he's painted by the writers.
If you like Olde Englande stories and haven't read the book, you'll probably like it. If, like me, you know and love the novel, you probably won't.