November 24, 2005

‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ gets an A grade

By Laurence Vittes

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - This new adaptation of
Thomas Hughes' perennial favorite comes up looking very
handsome and more intense than action-filled, offering a bit of
Charles Dickens aimed in large part at the "Harry Potter"

Set in 1820s England, when Rugby School outside of London
already was an institution, this extremely handsome, broodingly
atmospheric production recounts the brave if meandering and
sometimes muddle-headed efforts of a new headmaster, Dr. Arnold
(Stephen Fry), and a new boy, Tom Brown (Alex Pettyfer), to
reform the school's seamy corruption (prostitutes in the dorms
at night) and brutality (roastings in a literal sense) and lead
the good side to victory.

The overriding spirit is all a bit the English equivalent
of Boy Scout-ish, but therein lies its continuing immense
appeal, and though at first glance it might seem to be
inappropriate for Thanksgiving viewing, it turns out to be
ideal for families to watch together, as each generation will
take something different away, and the older members will be
able to explain, and perhaps comfort, the younger ones.

The cast of fictional characters includes the requisite
number of eccentrics, including a wonderful John Carlisle as a
dithering schoolmaster, and villains, headed by the sadistic
tyrant Flashman, portrayed with venom by Joseph Beattie. Tom's
schoolmates also are outstanding, particularly Harry Michell,
Dane Carter and Harry Smith.

Fry and Pettyfer, as they must, lead the way with
intelligence and passion, while Dave Moore's deeply personal
and imaginative direction, aided by a beautiful score, pays
dividends that offset some of the more uncomfortably violent

That 300 current Rugby students were cast as extras during
the six-day shoot (mostly on the Isle of Man), and that actual
locations from Hughes' novel were featured, including the
chapel where Tom prayed, the Old Quad where angelic George
Arthur was dunked in the well and the playing fields where the
game of rugby itself was born, adds substantially to the


Dr. Arnold: Stephen Fry

Tom Brown: Alex Pettyfer

East: Harry Michell

Flashman: Joseph Beattie

Tadpole: Dane Carter

Mary Arnold: Jemma Redgrave

Mr. Lampard: John Carlisle

George Arthur: Harry Smith

Credits: Producer: Suzan Harrison; Production designer: Tim
Hutchinson; Director: Dave Moore; Teleplay: Ashley Pharoah;
Cinematographer: Ryszard Lenczewski; Casting by: Maureen Duff,
Polly Hootkins.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter