Goodnight Mister Tom (1998 film)

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Goodnight Mister Tom
British DVD cover
Distributed by Carlton Television
Directed by Jack Gold
Produced by Chris Burt
Written by Brian Finch[1]
Based on Goodnight Mister Tom 
by Michelle Magorian
Starring John Thaw
Nick Robinson
Music by Carl Davis
Editing by Jamie McCoan
Production company Carlton Television
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Original channel ITV
Release date
  • 25 October 1998 (1998-10-25) (UK)
  • 30 May 1999 (1999-05-30) (US)
Running time 101 minutes

Goodnight Mister Tom is a 1998 film adaptation by Carlton Television of the book of the same name by Michelle Magorian; the cast featured the veteran British actor John Thaw and was directed by Jack Gold.


In September 1939, the United Kingdom enters World War II and children are evacuated from London to the countryside for their safety. Tom Oakley, a lonely and bitter old man living in a countryside village, Little Weirworld, is forced to look after one of the evacuees, William "Willie" Beech. Tom has long since withdrawn from life after losing his wife and child to scarlatina many years ago, while Willie is a quiet young boy who comes from an abusive home and is apprehensive of Tom.

Despite initial difficulties and tension, such as Willie wetting his bed and threatening Tom's dog, Sammy, before learning that he belonged to Tom, Willie and Tom slowly begin to bond. Tom learns that Willie lives with his abusive, mentally ill and highly religious mother (who obviously hates her son) in London after he sees that she has sent a belt for him to use on Willie and belt marks on Willie's back. Tom does his best to create a suitable home for Willie, such as providing him with new clothes and teaching him to read and write when his schoolteacher, Mrs. Hartridge, learns that Willie is illiterate. Willie's new life with Tom eventually boosts his self-confidence and he opens up to Tom, looking up to him as a surrogate father figure. He also meets and becomes best friends with a Jewish boy, Zacharias "Zach" Wrench. However, shortly after Willie's tenth birthday, Tom receives a letter from Mrs. Beech, who claims to be unwell after suffering a nervous breakdown and needs Willie back in London to look after her.

When Willie reunites with his mother, he discovers that she lied and is completely fine. Willie also meets his baby half-sister, Trudy, whom Mrs. Beech claims is a "present from Jesus". It is obvious, however, that Mrs. Beech has been made much more uneasy by the Blitz, and after an argument sparked by her discovery of the absence of the belt (Tom had angrily buried it into his garden after finding the scars on Willie's back), Mrs. Beech sends Willie to his room for the night. The next day, Mrs. Beech seems better after suffering a mental breakdown, but when Willie presents her with gifts that the locals from Little Weirworld had given him, she accuses him of stealing, interacting with girls and Jews, pummels him and eventually locks him in the house's cellar. Back in Little Weirworld, Tom starts missing Willie greatly. Initially he thinks Willie has moved on from him, until he finds the belt he threw a few days earlier. Tom deduces that Willie is in danger.

After spending the night in an air raid shelter, Tom enlists the help of a soldier, Ralph, to find Willie's address. They are informed by a neighbour that Mrs. Beech has left and that Willie has been evacuated to the countryside again. But Sammy detects a strange smell from the house and Tom breaks the door down. Sammy leads Tom and Ralph to the cellar, where they find Willie bloodied and battered, but still alive, holding his dead sister in his arms and chained to the closet wall. Willie is hospitalized. Tom visits Willie in the hospital and meets Dr. Stelton, a child psychiatrist who works with a children's home in Sussex. As Willie has no remaining relatives, since his father is long-dead, Stelton wishes to take Willie to the children's home as he believes he needs psychiatric treatment. Tom, however, kidnaps Willie from the hospital and takes him back to Little Weirworld.

Willie gradually recovers from his injuries and reunites with Zach and the others. While speaking with Zach, Willie learns about the concept of sex, something his mother raised him to believe was "something dirty" and unacceptable, and realises that his mother herself had been having an affair with another man, which resulted in the birth of Trudy. Eventually, Stelton and some social workers come to Tom's house with the news that Willie's mother committed suicide. They intend to take Willie to the children's home, but Willie protests, claiming he wants to stay with Tom (and partially due to the fact that Willie has been having nightmares of Stelton doing exactly this). Tom speaks alone with the head of the Home Office, Mr. Greenway, and persuades him that the only reason he wants Willie back is because he loves him like his own son. Mr. Greenway accepts Tom's story and allows him to adopt Willie. Unfortunately, Willie's newfound happiness is cut short when Zach receives a phone call from his mother, saying that London's East End was bombed while his father was there, and he wants to see Zach one last time in case he dies. Zach is killed in an air raid, and the news devastates Willie, causing him to withdraw from life. Tom, however, remembers how he felt when he lost his own family, and in an attempt to stop Willie going down the same path he did, gives Willie a heartfelt speech that while a loved one may physically be gone, they will always live on inside someone else's heart.

Willie eventually overcomes his grief and teaches himself how to ride the bicycle Zach gave to him as a farewell gift. In the film's final scene, Willie rides the bicycle down the long hill and stops just in front of an impressed Tom, whom he addresses as "Dad" for the first time.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

There have been two adaptations, the official film version (and sanctioned by the author) featuring the following cast and the British television adaptation of 1998 which is probably better known and featured the veteran British actor John Thaw. There was also a Musical version written by the author, Michelle Magorian, with music by Gary Carpenter. A few small productions of this have been staged.

Film cast[edit]

  • Tom Wooltorton - Tom Oakley
  • Josh Whelan - William Beech
  • Lars Lofberg - Mrs. Beech
  • James Naish - Zacharias Wrench
  • Bjorn Soldarl - Dr. Stelton
  • Corey - Vicar

TV cast[edit]


  • National Television Awards 1999: Best Drama for Goodnight Mister Tom
  • BAFTA 1999: Lew Grade Award for Most Popular Television Programme of 1998 for Goodnight Mister Tom
  • Television & Radio Industries Club Award 1999: Best ITV/Channel 5 Programme of 1998 for Goodnight Mister Tom


  1. ^ "Brian Finch | BAFTA". 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014. 

External links[edit]