I was told that Goodnight Mister Tom focused on a 70+ year old man with an interest in a young boy. Oh, and that I’d need tissues handy. It’s fair to say that I had my doubts.
And if I told you it was set during WWII, with scenes of child abuse, religious fanaticism and death, you’d be forgiven for imagining a very different production too. But whilst the subject matter is at times darker than blackout curtains sewn by Eva Braun herself, Goodnight Mister Tom manages to border on twee — for the first half at least.
But twee in a nice way. Like a chintz lampshade in a NQ bar. Or a guy paying for the drinks, without clicking they were the only reason you kissed him with tongues anyway. That said, by the second half, it takes a more sinister turn towards wartime Britain and becomes nostalgic for all the wrong reasons. More like seeing a white dog turd under a privet hedge.
Enjoying a successful national run, the acting is superb, with the grumpy title role played by Oliver Ford Davies — the love-child of John Thaw, who played the part in the similar TV adaptation, and Father Jack. But the real standout has to be the ingenious puppetry for Tom’s sheepdog Sammy, even if we did see it vigorously sniffing a child’s crotch (two words I never thought I’d write outside of a witness statement). You simply can’t take your eyes off it (the dog). Its operator, Elisa De Grey, became a star in her own right, nailing the sounds and behaviour of a loyal hound. Aside from Phil from Eastenders, she must be the only actor to have ‘dogging’ on her CV. Truth be told, the performance was so realistic, I expected to see her brazenly urinating against a lamp post outside the Opera House.
Typically, dramas set during the war are all about, well, war. But Goodnight Mister Tom diverts our attention towards the quaint country villages that became the homes of child evacuees from the city. Away from the front line, playground bullying is rife, people get depressed and some kids are still precocious little shits. Because as the war rages on, life does too.
That’s not to say it didn’t touch on the realities of the era. Every time my post arrives, it’s an ill-fitting dress I panic-bought on eBay. Every telegram in Goodnight Mister Tom brought more news of an ever-increasing death toll.
So whilst the first act starts to feel as though you’re watching someone else’s kids in a very expensive school play, Goodnight Mister Tom draws you in without realising. One minute you’re wondering whether the slow pace is a good thing. The next you’re pretending it’s the smoke machine that’s making your eyes water, not the moving final scene.