"Goodnight Mister Tom"
Sunday, May 30
PBS-TV's "Masterpiece Theatre" will be serving up a delicious treat on Sunday night. It's a heartwarming story set in a small English village during World War II. And as an added attraction, it stars one of England's finest actors, John Thaw ("Inspector Morse").
If there's a theme to "Goodnight Mister Tom," it's that war is hell. And that, sometimes, so is childhood.
Based on the powerful first novel by Michelle Magorian, published in 1981, "Goodnight Mister Tom" focuses on the early days of the war, when the Blitz persuaded many Londoners to pack their children off to the countryside, away they hoped from the reach of German bombs.
One such child is 9-year-old Willie Beech (Nick Robinson), and when he arrives in Little Wierwold, the small village where he is to spend the balance of the war, he is placed in the care of an elderly widower, Tom Oakley (Thaw), a man who defines, really, the term curmudgeon.
Despite the full, and very white, beard he's grown for the part, Thaw's fans will recognize his determined, spare style right away. They'll also sense that, since Thaw is playing the part, there must be more to Oakley than first meets the eye. And there is more: Oakley turned himself into a recluse with good reason. When he came back from service in World War I, he discovered that his wife and 5-year-old son had died of scarletina during his absence. They're buried in the churchyard just next door to where Oakley lives.
Place him with "someone who's religious or near a church," says the note that accompanied young Willie when he was evacuated from London. That's why he is put up at Oakley's house.
When Oakley is unpacking Willie's meager paper-bagful of belongings, he discovers another note, addressed "to whom it may concern": "Like most boys, he's full of sin. I've put the belt in for when he's bad."
When Oakley discovers Willie's back is marked with welts and scars, he hurls the belt deep into his garden.
It's not long before love begins to grow between the two, and Oakley finds that his own scars - emotional scars left from the First War begin to heal as Willie's physical scars heal.
The story comes to a head when Oakley receives a letter from Willie's mother asking that he be sent back to London. After a month with no word from the child, Oakley decides to go to the city and track him down. When he finds him, he realizes the depths of the horror to which the child has been exposed.
Thaw manages the transformation from curmudgeon to loving father-figure with great charm and grace. And young Nick Robinson has a charm and gangly poise all his own. Together, and with the help of a well-crafted story, the two will touch your heart.
"Goodnight Mister Tom" is well worth 90 minutes of your Sunday