Goodnight Mister Tom (film)

Goodnight Mister Tom is a 1998 TV film adaptation by Carlton Television from the book of the same name by Michelle Magorian. The film was directed by Jack Gold, and was his final film. The cast featured well known British actors, including John Thaw.

Goodnight Mister Tom
British DVD cover
Based onGoodnight Mister Tom
by Michelle Magorian
Written byBrian Finch[1]
Directed byJack Gold
StarringJohn Thaw
Nick Robinson
Theme music composerCarl Davis
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Chris Burt
Editor(s)Jamie McCoan
Running time101 minutes
Production company(s)Carlton Television
DistributorITV Studios
Original networkITV
Original release
  • 25 October 1998 (1998-10-25) (UK)
  • 30 May 1999 (1999-05-30) (US)


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 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 Tom has long since withdrawn from life after losing his wife and child to scarlet fever many years ago, whilst Willie is a quiet young boy who comes from an abusive home and is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 habitually wetting his bed and threatening Tom's dog, Sammy (before learning that he belongs to Tom and is friendly), the two slowly begin to bond with Willie calling him 'Mister Tom'. Tom learns that Willie lives with his abusive, extremely religious mother in London after reading a letter she has enclosed with his belongings, and sees that she has sent a belt for him to use on Willie. Later, he sees several welts on Willie's back whilst the boy is changing. In rage, he flings the belt into the far reaches of the garden. 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 and fellow evacuee, Zacharias "Zach" Wrench. Zach is the son of actors, very intelligent and rarely seen without his prized red bike. The outgoing and gregarious Zach helps Willie come out of his shell. Willie discovers he has a talent for drawing and Tom buys him drawing supplies for his tenth birthday, to Willie's joy. However, shortly after, 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 the baby is a "present from Jesus", and Willie is too young and naïve to consider any other scenario. Trudy is lying crying and neglected in a box and Willie's mother refuses to allow him to touch or comfort her, saying the baby needs to learn her place. It is obvious 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. The next day, Mrs. Beech seems in a better mood 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 the picture he painted for as well as the gifts and interacting with girls and Jews. She hits him when he protests against the accusations and eventually locks him in the cupboard under the stairs, after he defends Zach by saying that Jesus was a Jew. Back in Little Weirwold, Tom is missing Willie greatly and anxiously awaits the postman every morning in case there is something from London. He is told by the local billeting officer that it is common for the children who return home to forget their host families, which does little to make him feel better. Back at home, Tom is tending to his plants when he finds the belt that he threw into the garden on Willie's arrival, and has an instinct that Willie is in danger. He proceeds to get the train straight to London with Sammy, arriving late in the evening.

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 for the coast and that the neighbour hasn't seen Willie since he was evacuated to the countryside. Sammy, meanwhile, is pawing and whining at the door of Willie's flat, and Tom, knowing his dog well, breaks the door down. Sammy leads Tom and Ralph to the cupboard, which appears to be the source of a vile stench. The door is tied shut. Entering, they find Willie bloodied and battered, chained to the closet wall by his left wrist. He is holding Trudy in his free arm, and refuses to let her go. The police arrive and Willie eventually lets Tom take the baby. A policewoman silently confirms she is dead.

Willie is hospitalised. He suffers from night terrors and is chemically sedated. 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. He dismisses Tom's bond with Willie, saying it is Willie's best interests to be cared for at the home. Helpless, Tom leaves the hospital and bumps into Ralph, the A.R.P. warden. During a discussion with Ralph, Tom learns about Willie's early childhood; that his father was a violent alcoholic who choked to death on his own vomit in an alleyway. Tom decides that it would be best for Willie to return to Little Weirwold and kidnaps him from the hospital.

Back in Little Weirwold, 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. He realises that his mother had to have been having a relationship with a man, which resulted in the birth of Trudy. He questions Tom about this and Tom tells him gently that it is clear that Willie's mother was very ill (intimating that this is why her behaviour was so abusive and contradictory). Eventually, Stelton and some social workers come to Tom's house with the news that Willie's mother is dead, having killed herself. They intend to take Willie to the children's home but Willie protests, claiming he wants to stay with Tom (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, who is suspicious of Tom's motives. Tom manages to persuade him that the reason he wants Willie with him 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. Mr. Greenway ultimately accepts Tom's story and allows him to adopt Willie.

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 working in the Docks there. Zach goes to London and is killed in another air raid. The news devastates Willie, causing him to withdraw from life. Tom recalls 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 whilst 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 Zach's bicycle to honour his memory. In the film's final scene, Willie rides the bicycle down a long hill and stops just in front of an impressed Tom, whom he joyfully 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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