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From the Back Cover
Director Tony Richardson (Tom Jones) returns with another adaptation of this Henry Fielding novel. This one, written in in 1742, chronicles the rise of a young Joseph Andrews (Peter Firth of "Equus") who ascends from mere servant to become the personal footman--and fancy--of Lady Booby (Ann-Margaret). He battles seductions, robberies and rogues while trying to remain faithful to his true love--an equally innocent servant girl. Meanwhile, Lady Booby carefully tries to conceal her humble origins and a couple of not-so-well-kept secrets. END
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Film interpretations of Fielding always have a tall order, because the author cut his teeth as a hack playwright in 1720s London and developed an infallible sense of how to tease and please an audience for profit. This movie delights just as the 1963 version of 'Tom Jones' does, and for the same reasons (having the same director being the biggest), although it is not shortened as much as 'Tom Jones' and therefore retains much more of Fielding's flavour, balance and scale. Michael Hordern would not have been my first choice for the humble Parson Adams (I would have preferred one more like Roy Kinnear) but he plays the infallibly and perhaps unrealistically upright character with dignity and charm. Ann-Margaret returns a surprising performance as a ridiculously insatiable English gentlewoman, though perhaps by playing Fielding's Lady Booby she could not have refrained from displaying her chest. But the aptly named Natalie Ogle as Joseph's fiancée Fanny tends to lose her shirt a few times too. though more as a victim than a vamp, and that is entirely in keeping with a bawdy 1740s English comedy anyway. All the bare breasts and bottoms (as well as the sexual innuendo) in 'Andrews' are done with a responsible sense of comedic timing and decorum, not merely gratuitously, and as such are both genuinely funny and a statement on the pitiable circumstances of the characters-- or, in the end, their marital bliss. That makes the movie all the more delectable; but it is NOT family fare (and got rated R for it).
As a die-hard 'Pamela' fan I found it a treat to at last get to see this story on DVD and especially to see this character done so well. There has never been a distributed video version of 'Pamela' (and there should be) and though in his book Fielding represents Samuel Richardson's heroine after her marriage to 'Mr B' as haughty and selfish, here director Tony Richardson shows her as warm and compassionate, appropriately satisfied with having taken the high road and thus able to be a good influence on the happy outcome of her brother's trials. Karen Dotrice has the right look, as the character has been depicted in the contemporary Highmore painting series, and the right amount of virtuous prettiness to deserve this thespian's mantle.
But it is Peter Firth who takes the whole show, invariably cute in a 1970s/Mark Hammill goodness, with his tousled blond locks and hairless chest and coy white-toothed smile embodying an innocence and eagerness that the sarcastically grinning Albert Finney did not in 'Tom Jones'. In the scene filmed in the actual Roman baths he is only a sweet-natured trusting boy, more impressed with having climbed a tree to win a prize in front of his fair maiden Fanny at the fair than with the sight of Lady Booby's clinging wet shirt right in front of him. Throughout the movie he has the single-minded virtue of a superhero waiting in disguise, and the viewer pulls for him in every step of the way home.
See this one before 'Tom Jones', as that's how Fielding wrote them, and you'll recognize the author's development of both character and plot that guided him towards his better-known 1749 masterpiece. They're both good movies and far easier for most than reading the books ('Tom Jones' is 933 pages!).