TBT: Tom Jones (1963)


It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone! Wait, no, not that Tom Jones — but hey, he’s sexy, almost everybody loves him, and while he’s not Welsh, he’s kind of close by being English, so hey, it’s Tom Jones, the 1963 Academy Award-winning movie adaption of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel of the same name. As a fan of both the singer and this movie, it’s about time I got in a Throwback Thursday for this rollicking good time of a flick.

Tom Jones, 1969

No, not this Tom Jones…

Tom Jones (1963)

This Tom Jones. I know, I know, it’s easy to mix them up.

Back in the ’60s, historical costume movie did automatically not mean “stuffy and boring” a la Masterpiece Theater, like some people think today (although as Frock Flickers know, Masterpiece has a long tradition of showing juicy soap operas set in ye olden times, before we even had shirtless scything in Cornwall). Anyway, this story is decidedly raunchy and lighthearted, as we see the eponymous foundling Tom Jones make his way around in the world and with the lay-deez. While there’s plenty of sex, it’s all charmingly innocent or at least breezily consensual — I feel like this is a post-birth control pill, sexual revolution hits the 18th-century attitude. All the men and most of the women are game for multiple sex partners, almost always consequence-free, with a literal wink and nod to the camera. This is not like the 19th-century stories where extra-martial sex leads to ostracism or death.

Tom Jones (1963)

It’s not unusual to find out that I’m in love with you! (Not in love with the renfaire bodice, but easy access, amirite?)

Women have an amazing level of sexual agency in this film, and it’s unclear if the consequences are negative. All of Tom’s lovers make advances on him first and are shown to have other men in their beds, and this is pictured in an approving fashion. Yet the entire story is founded (no pun intended) on Tom Jones being a foundling, a bastard, and that status is thrown in his face endlessly. The woman assumed to be his mother is sent away in shame — although she turns out just fine in the end. And the woman who is actually his mother hides the truth until after her death, indicating that there’s some level of societal disapproval for the product of extra-marital sex.  Tom’s first lover gets pregnant (not by him, it’s revealed), and she’s ridiculed in public, seems to mean that women can have as much sex as they want, just as long as there’s no evidence. That’s not quite equality, but it’s does give women a measure of control over their bodies that they didn’t really have in the 18th century.

The contemporary sexual practices don’t extend to the table manners — which some neat-nicks think is weird, but I think is both realistic and as sexy as it was intended in 1963 (and would have been in the 1750s!).  Some say a big meal would make you sluggish and less interested in an active love-making session (that’s why America’s only advice columnist, Dan Savage, tells couples to fuck first on special occasions like Valentine’s Day). However, this scene between Tom and his second lover, Mrs. Waters, devouring a huge meal from soup to, er, nuts gets them totally randy and ready to rock!

The one exception to all this swinging ’60s sexual liberation is Tom’s twu wuv Sophie Western (played by Susannah York). She’s eternally virginal, even a little prudish, and somewhat disappointed in or disapproving of Tom’s wanton ways. But not enough to ditch him, of course. Two competing suitors are thrown her way, and one is advised to rape her (told so by an older woman, who’s having sex with Tom, no less), and Sophie fights off all these advances.

Tom Jones (1963)

She wears this white dress for 2/3rds the movie, so she must be a virgin.

Interestingly, Sophie’s purity is not held up as a great paragon by the film. Only Tom sees her as of great value. For example, her father, Squire Western, is a rapscallion fellow, straight out of a satirical Hogarth etching, and he thinks Sophie is a prissy little thing. Speaking of Hogarth, many scenes in the film are evocative of his 1750s drawings. That’s the one thing the movie gets most historically accurate.

Tom Jones (1963)

He’s no courtier, lady.

A Midnight Modern Conversation by William Hogarth, 1745

A Midnight Modern Conversation” by William Hogarth, 1745 — pretty much what Squire Western does during the film.

Because, while it’s nominally set in 1745, the costumes in this flick are just barely decent enough to evoke the historical time period. You’ll definitely catch some bouffants hairstyles and winged eyeliner to remind you of the 1960s production date (though not as much on the lead actors). The basic clothing shapes are right for the period, but the fabric and trim choices are pretty weak. At least there’s no zippers or grommets (I looked closely, it’s hook-and-eye tape in the back of the gowns; seriously, if you’re going to do it wrong, that’s so much better IMNSHO than grommets!). The hair is all over the place, with Sophie wearing either a barrette or a pony tail most of the time, and Tom with hair that’s just barely long enough for a little queue (ponytail) in the back.

Only the bad guys or slightly crazy men wear wigs. Although those wigs are pretty OTT and used to great affect. Squire Western and his cronies are in long, slightly frizzy, sometimes askew fat-bottomed wigs, as older men would have been in this period. Tom’s tutors wear frizzy hair or wigs with funny double braids and a dusting of powder. His nemesis, Blifil, wears a huge bouffant wig. And when Tom’s sleeping with a rich older lady who buys him fancy pants (literally), he wears a poncy wig, and that indicates that he’s been bought and “tarnished.”

Tom Jones (1963)

That’s not just camera glare on the brown wig — it’s powder, and I think it’s applied in that random way to make him look more ridiculous.

Tom Jones (1963)

More powder, and side view of Blifil’s huge bouffant, finished in a tidy braid.

Tom Jones didn’t win the Oscar for Best Costume, that’s for sure — but it did win for Best Picture that year. It’s definitely a fun movie, even if it’s not historically accurate. And even if it’s not historically accurate, it’s historically aware. I mean, look at this execution scene — it’s another Hogarth reference, right to his ‘execution at Tyburn.’ And on that note…

Tom Jones (1963)

Spoiler alert: Tom lives!

"The execution of the idle apprentice at Tyburn" by William Hogarth, 1747.

“The execution of the idle apprentice at Tyburn” by William Hogarth, 1747.




It’s not unusual for me to watch wacky old movies like this on TMC — what about you?




About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

11 Responses

  1. Stephani

    Wow…. I just rewatched ANNIE for the first time since I was a kid and now I just can’t picture Albert Finney as anyone other than Daddy Warbucks–certainly not as slutty Tom Jones. I’m having real difficulty reconciling the fact that this actor played those two characters. Not usually a problem for me.
    I do enjoy the story of Tom Jones, and really like the more recent film/miniseries production. It’s very much in the same spirit as Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill, only with a hot guy and no lesbian action. That I recall.

  2. AshleyOlivia

    Did they really change her name in the film to Sophie? It’s Sophia in the novel.

    I have to confess I haven’t seen this film, but when we were covering it in graduate school the professor showed a short clip and I **really** wanted to keep watching. It looked like a ton of fun.

  3. mmcquown

    I suppose Fielding’s point was the hypocrisy of the times. Certainly made in a highly entertaining manner. He had a relative who was a royal Justice. In the novel
    “The Demoniacs,” John Dickson Carr uses Justice Fielding as a character. The historical detail in the novel is excellent. From an earlier period, Carr created “The Devil In Velvet,” late 17th C mystery in which a Cambridge don travels back in time to unravel the murder of an ancestor.

    • AshleyOlivia

      Much of it was in response to Richardson. Fielding objected to the ways Richardson’s texts reduced a virtuous life to just being about preserving your virginity for marriage. Tom Jones has sex with everyone, but he is a fundamentally good character at heart, as opposed to Blifil, who is careful to maintain appearances but in reality is a nasty person.

      I think Trystan does a good job showing how the story is progressive on some levels, but also contains a lot of conservative elements (ie., the focus on Sophia’s purity). Fielding cared about the lives of the poor (He was a magistrate), but in a very paternalistic manner. He thought benevolent patriarchy was very important, since left to their own devices the poor would essentially behave like animals (see the scene in the graveyard with Molly Seagrim, or the entire text of Shamela).

      • Trystan L. Bass

        Yep! The original novel’s critique works nicely with the sexual liberation of the 1960s (which was ‘yay sex!’ but not quite actual equality).

  4. Sarah Lorraine

    I will always remember the Masterpiece Theater of my childhood (1980s) which was pretty much on par with a National Geographic special in terms of sexual education. No idea where it got it’s reputation for being stodgy and staid, because some of my earliest memories of sex on film were via Masterpiece Theater, including one really bizarre movie that had a bunch of teenagers pantomiming sexual encounters in front of an adult audience in order to tell the Adults In Charge that they knew who the murderer was.

    Weird shit, but educational!

  5. ladylavinia1932

    The story was definitely actually set during the mid-1740s. After Tom had been cast away by Squire Allworthy, he came across a company of soldiers that were on their way to fight the Highlanders during the 1745 rising.

    When you claim that the movie is not historically accurate, are you referring to the its costumes or other aspects?