Directed by Gordon Parry, Tom Brown’s Schooldays is a faithful but uninspired adaptation of Thomas Hughes’ classic story of schoolboy camaraderie and good overcoming bad.
This was the second film version of Hughes’ semi-autobiographical novel, and shot on location amongst the 19th century classrooms, playing fields and dormitories of Rugby School for Boys – an institution where reform of the public school system is struggling to take a hold and obedience and respect for your betters is the most important lesson to be learnt.
A quiet 11-year-old boy, Tom Brown (John Howard Davies), arrives for his first day at school, and soon strikes up a friendship with East (John Charlesworth), who has been asked to take care of him.
After failing to carry out his command quickly enough, Tom and East fall foul of the upper-class school bully, Flashman (John Forrest). Once hostilities have been established the bullying begins in earnest; Tom is tossed in a blanket, beaten by Flashman, and – after refusing to hand over a promising gambling ticket – is roasted in front of a roaring fire.
In the face of such tortures, the school headmaster Dr Arnold (Robert Newton) continues striving with his programme of reforms despite the objections of schoolmaster Wilkes (Michael Hordern).
Tom spends his end-of-term holiday at home learning the art of boxing with the intention of defending himself against Flashman in future.
Once back at school, Tom is handed the task of caring for a new pupil; a frail orphan called Arthur (Glyn Dearman). With the guidance of Diggs (Neil North), Tom and East finally turn the tables on Flashman by handing him a severe beating.
Despite being too young to race, the boys join in the school’s annual Hare and Hounds race, and en route, they encounter Flashman fighting with farmer’s son Ned Taylor (Anthony Doonan) by the riverside.
Following a blow from Taylor, Flashman falls backwards into the water and is in danger of drowning until Tom and his friends risk their own lives to rescue him.
The incident results in delicate Arthur nearly dying of fever, but after a long spell of anxiety, he recovers.
Flashman tries to claim the credit for rescuing Arthur from the river, and simultaneously blame the episode on Tom and East. But his lies are exposed by a confession from Ned Taylor, and Dr Arnold has no hesitation in expelling Flashman from the school.
John Howard Davies
Dr Thomas Arnold
Francis de Wolff