Tom Brown's Schooldays

***

Reviewed by: Darren Amner

As soon as the opening credits start to run you can hear the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra rampantly playing a cutesy, happy-go-lucky tune, that is used to introduce us to Tom Brown, a studious, very young, quiet boy, who is getting ready to leave home for the first time to attend Rugby School For Boys. As he arrives for his first term at this most ancient of establishments, which has become a British institution, he is left with a parting gift of knowledge from his world-weary coachman, "School days are your happiest days - or your last."

With that in mind young Tom - the 19th century version of Dakota Fanning - is wise beyond his years and has brain cells practically poking out of his ears. Dubbed a classic in its time, the film is more likely to surface these days on a movie classics channel. It's very dated, but the themes that run throughout are still significant.

It is a tale of schoolboy camaraderie and how good overcomes evil, as Tom and his under-class friends try to overcome the bullying antics of the older upper class, especially their leader, Flashman, a cruel, almost sadistic, bully, who, on his own, is nothing more than a coward. One particular roasting scene - relax, its not that sort of movie - comes to mind, which may have pushed the boundaries for a film released in 1951.

All the boys are away from home, some for the first time, and it's a way to teach them the values of life on their path to becoming a man. Slight in stature, Tom is big in heart and decides to stand up to the bullies. He has an unshakeable faith and leads by example. Flashman, on the other hand, sees the younger pupils as no more than grubby little brutes, whom he uses as servants, pandering to his every whim. His aim is to teach them respect from their betters.

Performances are very good, especially John Howard Davies, as Tom. In its day, I am sure the film was more exciting and captivating as a study into the public school system, where obedience and respect from teachers was the most important lesson to be learned. Sadly, it does feel incredibly dated and will struggle to find an audience, reared on flashier, faster edited, harder edged material, which is a shame, as the story and characters are of a high quality and could captivate a more open-minded viewer.

Classics such as this are usually given better treatment when surfacing on this format, but will be forgotten, as the likes of Stand By Me take over in our minds, not because it is superior, but because the DVD disc is.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2006
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Surviving public school in the bad old days of institutionalised bullying
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Director: Gordon Parry

Writer: Noel Langley, based on the novel by Thomas Hughes

Starring: John Howard Davies, Robert Newton, Diana Wynyard, Hermione Baddeley, Kathleen Byron, James Hayter, John Charlesworth, John Forrest, Michael Hordern, Max Bygraves, Rachel Gurney, Francis De Wolff, Amy Veness

Year: 1951

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK

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