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When Tom Jones premieres April 30 on Masterpiece on PBS, it won’t be the first time that Henry Fielding’s comic novel, first published in 1749, appears on screen. The story, which follows the story of a young man of mysterious birth who struggles to find his place among England’s upper classes, was adapted for the big screen in both 1963 and 1976, and a version aired on the BBC in 1997. The points that Tom Jones has to make about identity, love, and the importance of having a devastatingly charming smile, however, are timeless enough that a new adaptation—starring Solly McLeod, Sophie Wilde, and Hannah Waddingham—feels more than welcome.


The story that Jones has to tell felt new for McLeod, a veteran of House of the Dragon and Outlander, as well: he’d never previously heard of the story. But the four-part series—which comes with more than its fair share of mischief, merriment, and period-piece hijinks—captured his imagination immediately. Here’d he tells T&C about the enduring appeal of the classic.

Solly McLeod and Sophie Wilde in Tom Jones, premiering April 30 on Masterpiece on PBS.

Steffan Hill

Tom Jones is based on a novel first published in the 1700s. It’s been the inspiration for plays, operas, and films. What about the story drew you in?

I was shooting in Manchester in the summertime of 2021, and while I was shooting, I was still doing auditions for other projects. This one came along, and initially I saw it and I thought, oh great, they’re making a Tom Jones biopic about the singer—but I read on and realized it’s not the Welsh singer Tom Jones that they want me to play. I’d never heard anything about the book, the adaptions, the film, or the BBC series, but I read all the scripts before I did the first audition and I really enjoyed them. They were fast-paced, high energy, very funny, and very quirky. I thought it would be a fun thing to do, which is what what drew me to it initially.

The series it feels of its period, visually but the way story is told is an arched eyebrow; it’s unexpected in that way.

I found that in the scripts during that first read. Obviously it’s set in the 1700s, but I was reading scenarios, and realized I know people that have gone through this, and I know someone that would say this exact thing, too. The characters and the humor of it was very modern, but it still worked with the period.

Solly McLeod plays the title character in Tom Jones, a new Masterpiece adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel. Here, McLeod is styled by Ella Gaskell at Stella Creative Artists.

Joseph Sinclair

When you’ve read the scripts and decided you love the project, do you then go read the book and see the other adaptations?

When I got the role, I think it was after three rounds of auditions all on Zoom, I decided I didn’t want to delve into the past adaptations. I didn’t want to look at the film or the TV series because I wanted to start afresh, because I thought the fact that I didn’t know anything about it was probably beneficial. I did go to a bookstore in London and found a nice hardback copy of Tom Jones, and I thought, great, I’m going to read the book. And I got maybe 12 pages in before I was like, “it’s too dense.” The language is very chaotic, beautifully written, but I couldn’t quite get past the description of the garden that Tom grew up in.

The character is a bit of a scoundrel. You get to have some fun with him.

Those things definitely drew me in, but it was also his innocence—there was comedy in that as well. He’d get himself into these situations and he realize that they were happening until he was in them. He’s very naive and very innocent, which I found funny.

When you’re making a period piece like this, how do you get comfortable in that world?

All of it was filmed on location, so we didn’t use any sets or studios. It was in and around Belfast, in Northern Ireland; we used the streets ad these big estates that they had. They were amazing. At a lot of them, we weren’t allowed inside. Someone would walk in with coffee and then get yelled at, “Get away. It’s 300 years old, you’re not allowed to touch it.”

I also loved putting on the costumes. If I could put on the costume while I’m doing work on the character beforehand, I’d have a much better sense of how he’ll move, but instead I’d put the costume and be like, “Oh, I actually can’t do that in this costume, so I’m going to have to change it.” But the costumes were amazing, and all looked absolutely fantastic. I loved putting them on and stepping into Tom’s skin, you feel like you’ve been transported completely.

Solly McLeod stars in Tom Jones, premiering April 30 on Masterpiece on PBS.

Courtesy Mammoth Screen and Masterpiece

What makes Tom Jones important to visit again today?

When we were filming and first started seeing what it looked like, I was struck by how joyful, bright, and fun the show was. It’s nice to see something lighthearted compared to a lot of the darker, gritty things that are being made. It’s quite nice to create something that’s great fun.

Is there anything that you took away from Tom that is useful in your own life?

A lot of the time we’re quick to judge people and blame our problems on others, but Tom never did that. He knew that it was all his fault, and so he worked on himself. That’s where he is at the end of the story: He’s realizing that his actions have consequences and that if he really wants something to change, he’s the one that has to do it. Even now, I try to think about that.

Adam Rathe is Town & Country‘s Deputy Features Director, covering arts and culture and a range of other subjects.