Tom Jones (1997)
The Oscar-winning 1963 adaptation of Tom Jones is great fun, but this A&E/BBC mini-series is the definitive version, truer in both spirit and letter to Henry Fielding's gargantuan 18th-century picaresque. The TV Tom marries the earlier film's rollicking farce to the novel's brilliantly observed satire on manners and morals, virtue and vice, and the storytelling process itself via the inspired stroke of including Fielding himself in the proceedings. The author, portrayed with marvelous drollery by John Sessions, serves as narrator/chorus through the tale of open-hearted, easily tempted Tom (Max Beesley), a bastard foundling raised by the benevolent Squire Allworthy (Benjamin Whitrow), exiled through the machinations of his rival Blifil (James D'Arcy), and forever pursuing his true love, headstrong Sophia Western (Samantha Morton). While he lacks the raffish charisma Albert Finney brought to the role in the '63 film, Beesley is a handsome, likeable Tom, and he and the delightful Morton make an enormously appealing couple. And the supporting cast is a dream, especially Sessions, Brian Blessed as the beastly Squire Western, Ron Cook as Tom's Latin-spouting reputed father, and BBC regular Lindsay Duncan as the vicious Lady Bellaston. Even at four-plus hours, the production is so perfectly paced and spiritedly played you'll want to drink it all down in one sitting, like (or, fittingly, with) a saucy flagon of wine.