A star rating of 3 out of 5.

This article is based on the first episode only, which was made available for review.


For what is thought to be among the earliest English novels ever created, Tom Jones has been adapted surprisingly few times.

There is of course the classic 1963 film with Albert Finney, a number of radio and stage adaptations (including 2021's What's New Pussycat? which featured the songs of Tom Jones alongside the story which had been reimagined in the 1960s, a wildly convoluted concept) and a 1997 BBC series.

Still, the novel isn't as widely known as Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights for instance, and as such doesn't arrive with the same weight of expectation upon its shoulders.

However, this does mean that when viewers start watching this new series on ITVX, rather than looking for elements of previous adaptations of fidelity to the novel's plot, most will instead be looking for tropes of the period drama as a whole. And here, they are bountiful.

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Solly McLeod as Tom Jones and Sophie Wilde as Sophia Western in Tom Jones
Solly McLeod as Tom Jones and Sophie Wilde as Sophia Western in Tom Jones. Mammoth Screen for ITV/ITVX

The series stars relative newcomer Solly McLeod as Tom, a young man who was abandoned as a baby but was rescued and raised by a country gentleman, Squire Allworthy. Now he is charming, kind and popular with the ladies – but when he falls in love with wealthy heiress Sophia (Sophie Wilde), his low birth gets in the way.

As well as McLeod and Wilde the series features a who's who cast of acclaimed British actors, including James Fleet, Alun Armstrong, Shirley Henderson, Pearl Mackie, Susannah Fielding, Daniel Rigby and Hannah Waddingham.

The first thing you notice about the series is its aesthetic. The colour palette is made up of dazzlingly bright blues and greens and everything is gorgeously lit, from the glistening exteriors to the candle-lit interiors.

This lightness extends to the tone. That's not to say it doesn't tackle more difficult topics and see hardships placed upon the central characters, but everything is treated with a delicate touch, which gives the series the energy of a romp.

Solly McLeod as Tom Jones.
Solly McLeod as Tom Jones. Mammoth Screen for ITV/ITVX

This is both to the adaptation's benefit and its detriment. It means that the series is fun and unburdened with needless grit (think the opposite of the BBC's Great Expectations). However, because the plot, at least in the first episode, appears relatively thin, the whole thing can feel slightly sedate.

There's fun to be had in watching Tom galavanting around the countryside with different women, but you kind of wish things would get a move on, or that characters' grievances with one another would come to a head. Everything's just a bit aimless, a bit calm, a bit... nice.

As mentioned above, a phenomenal cast has been put together for this series and they are, as you'd expect, a delight. That said, they're also as you'd expect in terms of the tone and tenor of their performances – they all fit neatly into this 18th century setting and our understanding of it as an era on screen. Nobody's pushing the boat.

In fact, that's the case the whole way through the show. For better or worse it exactly meets your expectations of a tame, tea-time period drama. Even the musical score is light and bouncy, fitting the general vibe nicely.

Alun Armstrong as Squire Western and Shirley Henderson as Aunt Western in Tom Jones
Alun Armstrong as Squire Western and Shirley Henderson as Aunt Western in Tom Jones. Mammoth Screen for ITV/ITVX

The narrative quirk of having Sophie narrate the proceedings is a welcome addition, as is the general decision made by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes to shift the focus more on to her story as well as Tom's.

Similarly, the decision to tackles audience's expectations of race and racism in the era is also a smart move, with Sophia having been born to a slave mother in Jamaica in this iteration of the story.

It's one of the few things which makes this adaptation truly stand-out, and while it is not particularly foregrounded in the first episode, it appears set to be further explored in future instalments.

But for the most part this is period drama 101, meaning fans of the genre are likely to find much to enjoy here, but may not be bowled over or shook of their expectations.

Of course, we still have the introduction of Hannah Waddingham's Lady Bellaston to come in future episodes, and maybe she will liven things up. But for now, Tom Jones appears designed to be watched with a cup of tea on a sleepy Sunday afternoon by fans of the genre looking to escape into an old fashioned tale, and you know what? It fits the bill nicely.

Tom Jones arrives on ITVX on Thursday 4th May 2023. If you're looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide and Streaming Guide. Visit our Drama hub for all the latest news.


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