Goodnight Mister Tom (film)

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Goodnight Mister Tom
British DVD cover
Based on Goodnight Mister Tom
by Michelle Magorian
Written by Brian Finch[1]
Directed by Jack Gold
Starring John Thaw
Nick Robinson
Theme music composer Carl Davis
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Chris Burt
Editor(s) Jamie McCoan
Running time 101 minutes
Production company(s) Carlton Television
Distributor ITV Studios
Original network ITV
Original release
  • 25 October 1998 (1998-10-25) (UK)
  • 30 May 1999 (1999-05-30) (US)

Goodnight Mister Tom is a 1998 film adaptation by Carlton Television of the book of the same name by Michelle Magorian. It was the final film to be directed by Jack Gold. The cast featured well known British actors, including veteran actor John Thaw.


In September 1939, the United Kingdom entered the Second World War and children were evacuated from London to the countryside for their safety. Tom Oakley, a lonely and bitter old man living in the countryside village of Little Weirwold, 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 Tom has long since withdrawn from life after losing his wife and child to scarlet fever many years ago, while Willie is a quiet young boy who comes from an abusive home and is apprehensive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, the two slowly begin to bond, with Willie calling his new guardian 'Mister Tom'. Tom learns that Willie lives with his abusive, mentally ill and extremely religious mother in London after he sees that she has sent a belt for him to use on Willie, as well as a number of 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 helping him learn to read and write when his schoolteacher, Mrs. Hartridge, learns that Willie is illiterate. Willie's new life with Tom gradually 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 ill and needs Willie back in London to look after her.

When Willie reunites with his mother, he discovers that she lied to get him to return and is completely fine. Willie also meets his baby half-sister, Trudy. Mrs. Beech claims is a "present from Jesus", and Willie is too young and naïve to consider any other scenario. 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 (which Tom discarded), Mrs. Beech sends Willie to his room for the night and the baby begins to cry. The next day, Mrs. Beech seems better after suffering a mental breakdown, but when Willie presents her with gifts that the locals from Little Weirwold had given him, and tells her about some of his friends, she accuses him of stealing, interacting with girls and Jews, and finally pummels him and eventually locks him in the house's cellar after he tells her that Jesus was a Jew. Back in Little Weirwold, Tom starts missing Willie greatly. Initially he thinks Willie has moved on from him, until he finds the belt that he had discarded some time earlier. Tom has an instinct that Willie is in danger.

After spending the night in an air raid shelter, Tom enlists the help of an A.R.P. Warden, 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, which appears to be the source of a vile stench. They find Willie bloodied and battered, but still alive, and chained to the closet wall. He is also holding Trudy, who has died. 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. Stelton wishes to take Willie to the children's home as he believes he needs psychiatric treatment, although he promises to attempt to trace any surviving relatives that Willie might have. It is during a discussion with Ralph that Tom learns about Willie's early childhood; that his father was a violent wife-beating alcoholic who choked to death on his own vomit. Tom, however, decides that it would be best for Willie to return to Little Weirwold and kidnaps him from the hospital.

Willie gradually recovers from his injuries and trauma, and reunites with Zach and the others. While speaking with Zach, Willie learns about the concept of something his mother raised him to believe was "something dirty" and unacceptable, and realises that his mother herself had been having a relationship with another man, which resulted in the birth of Trudy. Still feeling guilty and responsible for Trudy's death and with some help from Tom and Mrs. Hartridge, Willie gets past his mournful guilt by meeting Mrs. Hartridge's new born baby girl, Peggy. Eventually, Stelton and some social workers come to Tom's house with the news that Willie's mother is dead, having 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 and that Willie has clearly been happier with him than he ever was when he lived with his mother. Despite hesitation and doubt, 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 then killed himself in another air raid, and the news devastates Willie, causing him to faint from shock and 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 head and 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.



  • 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. 

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