July 28, 2009

Tom Brown's Schooldays (2005)

It's been randomly thunderstorming here in NYC and rain always makes me nostalgic for England. Instead of running down 5th Ave. with a newspaper over my head, looking like all sorts of dishevelment, I like to imagine that I'm in 19th century London, sitting in my Victorian parlor, gazing out at the hurrying passersby through my window, and quietly remarking, "goodness, what a dreadful downpour!" as I take tea and nibble on biscuits and jam.

Being reminded of England puts me in the mood for a Dickensian film and since I've already seen every adaptation of Oliver Twist, I dug up instead Tom Brown's School Days, a recent BBC production which I've put off watching for years. Tom Brown's School Days was an autobiographical novel written by Tom Hughes in the mid-1800s and details life in a traditional English boarding school for boys. It's a popular book and has been adapted many times for television and film, but this was my first time with it and even though I thought it wasn't as good as Goodbye, Mr. Chips, it was still enjoyable and sufficiently scratched my English itch.

The book chronicles the author's experiences at Rugby School, a real-life institution in Warwickshire that is still in operation today. The movie made use of the actual location itself so the gorgeous shots of ivy covered stone/brick buildings and lusciously green campus grounds are all authentic.
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England's national treasure Stephen Fry plays the progressive schoolmaster set on reforming the school through love, honesty, and discipline.
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"Tom Brown" is the kid on the left, with the stringy blond hair, played by a remarkably convincing Alex Pettyfer. The kid on the right is his best friend. I really love these outfits. Look at their little neckties! Can you imagine getting kids to wear such elaborate ensembles nowadays? Impossible.
tombrownschooldays_arriving_dirtied

The hierarchy of authority between the upper and lower classmen was notorious. The younger students basically served as lackeys for the older ones and this system of power was often abused to a point where if obedience was not observed, the lower classmen were brutally terrorized through physical beatings and public humiliation.

Bullies.
such colorful vests and nicely done up ascots.
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tombrownschooldays_flashmangreenvest

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So school wasn't just about sitting still in a classroom and learning stuff anymore. It became a game of survival.
tombrownschooldays_classroom

Tom Brown and his fellow lower classmen were at the beck and call of the older students. Here they are fetching water for one of them.
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They also had to adhere to certain "traditions," like stealing a chicken from the groundskeeper.
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Forms of torture included being pinned up against an open fireplace, which often resulted in painful 2nd to 3rd degree burns.
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But Tom Brown stood up to the lead bully one day and challenged him to a fight. (btw, I was kind of disappointed at the lack of homoerotic undertones here...they had so much potential to work with. I mean, a school full of adolescent boys with raging hormones? Hello!)
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tombrownschooldays_fighting

I don't want to spoil the ending for you but let's just say that even though Tom Brown got the daylights knocked out of him, he doesn't die and instead, becomes somewhat of a hero among his fellow lower classmen. The film isn't without its tragedies though, but I thought it best not to go into too much detail.
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Here's a few more screenshots of the boys partaking in daily exercise, which consisted of playing rugby, cricket, and other English games I'm not familiar with.

tombrownschooldays_exercising

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tombrownschooldays_schoolhousemaster

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tombrownschooldays_cricket

And here are more images of the school and its environs. What beautiful grounds. I know some people, especially Americans, perceive boarding school as something of an archaic tradition, a place for wealthy parents to send their children when they don't want to deal with the burden of raising them. I am one of those unusual creatures who always wished her parents had actually sent her off to boarding school instead. But then again, I was always one of those quiet nerdy girls who loved to learn... and who liked uniforms.

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the chapel. gorgeous stain glass.
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Overall the movie was alright. It's a BBC production and for those of you familiar with those, you'll know what to expect (moves kind of slow, somewhat awkward camerawork, realistic and not glazed with a pretty, shiny Hollywood veneer, etc). But it's still enjoyable.

4 comments:

I remember watching this years ago and fell in love with the idea of going to boarding school, specifically ones with brick and ivy and groundskeepers. I love BBC's stuff, it always looks so lush and inviting. Have you had a chance to look at North and South? Just fallen in love with it, and I'm expousing it to all I know.

Back to schools I remember watching a random documentary "The Dangerous School for Boys"about this school in France which wanted to teach boys to be boys again without game consoles, check it out;

http://www.lifestylechannel.com.au/shows/show.asp?id=348

http://blogs.orange.co.uk/tv/2007/06/cutting_edge_th.html

OMG! AAAH! AHH! Thanks so much, Katina, for the recommendations. I will seek out The Dangerous School for Boys and North & South immediately. I love stuff about boys boarding schools. I think it's all due to the fact that Dead Poets Society and Goodbye Mr. Chips were on constant rerun on TV when I was a child.

I believe that one of the characters - Flashman - became the main protagonist in George MacDonald Fraser's series about a cowardly British Army officer named Harry Flashman.

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