ITV’s hotly anticipated adaptation of Vanity Fair hasn’t yet hit our screens, but RadioTimes.com can reveal that the broadcaster is already planning a follow-up – a new version of 18th century novel Tom Jones.
Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes is adapting Henry Fielding’s adventures of foundling Tom, which has delighted and scandalised readers since it was first published in 1749. Samuel Johnson once wrote that “I scarcely know a more corrupt work”.
The 1963 feature film version starring Albert Finney (above) won an Oscar for Best Picture, and a 1997 BBC adaptation starred Max Beesley was critically acclaimed.
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However, writer Hughes reckons now is the time for an updated version of the story, which chronicles young Tom Jones’s many scrapes and sexual exploits.
She told RadioTimes.com, “I hadn’t read the book before, and I think I’d inherited a vague idea that it’s a slightly unpleasant bawdy romp with a lecherous hero and a wimpy girlfriend. How wrong can you be? It turns out that Tom Jones is a great romance, and a rollicking adventure story, full of twists and turns and surprises.
“And the biggest surprise for me was how much sympathy I felt towards both Tom and his beloved Sophia. She’s a great heroine, brave, resourceful and determined to get her man – it’s as much her story as his. And Tom: yes, he gets into a lot of scrapes; yes, he has too much sex; and yes, he gets into a few fights, but oh, he’s so young, so good-hearted, and he is alone in the world,” Hughes continues. “In the book, no female is immune to his charm, and perhaps you can tell that I can’t resist him either!”
Hughes believes that the novel also has an added relevance following the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, and sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and the UK.
“These days we are all hyper alert to issues of consent and sex equality. But Henry Fielding was there before us. Almost three hundred years ago, he was writing men and women with equal human abilities in love and sexual desire, and his moral compass was clear, compassionate and humorous. Tom never has sex with a woman who doesn’t want him. All he wants is to be a gentleman and marry Sophia. They are very young lovers on a long and bumpy journey, and I’m sure we will all want to be there.”
Damien Timmer from producers Mammoth Screen adds, “Popular culture has Tom Jones down as a womanising rogue, based on previous adaptations. But Fielding’s original is so much more complex than that: he’s a goodhearted hero, trying to make his way in a world where no one understands the rules, which reminds us very much of today. Tackling his story in the 21st century it seems only right to have Gwyneth Hughes, one of our very best female screenwriters, telling his story.
“One of the first novels ever written, it’s also one of the funniest and best plotted – a huge slice of 18th century life told with gusto and heart. We’re already in early talks with a major star about playing Tom Jones.”
Mammoth Screen, the production company behind Poldark, Victoria and the BBC’s latest Agatha Christie adaptation Ordeal By Innocence, are set to produce the drama. Although not formally greenlit, it is hoped the series will film in 2019.