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Tom Brown's Schooldays (1916)


Main image of Tom Brown's Schooldays (1916)
35mm, black and white, silent, 5700 feet
DirectorRex Wilson
Production CompanyWindsor Film Company
ScriptRex Wilson
From the novel byThomas Hughes

Cast: Joyce Templeton, Jack Hobbs, Jack Coleman (Tom Brown); Mr. Johnson (Harry East); Laurie Leslie (Flashman); Evelyn Boucher (Cynthia Brown)

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The adventures of a Squire's mischievous son as a boarder at Rugby School in the 1830s.

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Based on Thomas Hughes' 19th Century classic, Tom Brown's Schooldays recounts the adventures of a boy's youth, with three actors playing Tom at different ages. The film follows the young Tom as he begins life at Rugby, confronting school bully Flashman and befriending Harry East. Later, the older Tom enters his final year of school, finds himself guardian of a timid boy, Arthur, and becomes an upstanding young man.

Like many early adaptations, this production represents only selected episodes from the novel, making it difficult to follow without prior knowledge of the book - something which the producers assume. A love interest is added to the story, since director Rex Wilson decided the film would not appeal to audiences without this device. Contemporary reviews were generally favourable, commenting that the film captured the British spirit and taught wholesome lessons about the value of truth and of being a gentleman, although a few also bemoaned the unnecessary addition of a love affair.

Today the story's Victorian moralising seems extremely dated, but in 1916 it presented a picture of British grit and moral worth that could inspire wartime audiences. Some reviewers took pains to point out that no one employed in the film ought to have been in the fighting forces, and that Jack Hobbs, who played Tom's final incarnation, was now doing his duty in the army.

The world of Tom Brown is successfully recreated, with period details such as an identical coach to the one used at Rugby, and the use of over three hundred boys for the rugby match, played as it was in Tom Brown's day. The film uses some unusual techniques for its period, as in the scene in which Tom and East's faces are placed in the top corners of dialogue intertitles while they mouth the words written beside them.

Tom's sister Cynthia could have developed into an interesting character, but like most women in the film, she is there primarily to provide a side-plot to the main action and to reveal aspects of Tom's character. The film succeeds best when giving a boys' account of a boys' world, with the most effective scenes, such as the two fights and rugby game, capturing the excitement of schoolboy life. It is here that the voice of Thomas Hughes can be best heard.

David Morrison

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Video Clips
1. New boy (4:34)
2. Flashman (6:43)
3. 'Fight!' (6:50)
Children on Film
Literary Adaptation
Teen Terrors On Film