It is an adaptation of novel The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding. The film begins with Squire Allworthy (George Devine), a minor country landowner, coming home to his estate and finding an infant child in his bed. Believing that the child belongs to a servant girl of his named Jenny Jones, Allworthy raises the boy, christened Tom Jones, as if he were the squire's own son.
Some years later Tom (Albert Finney), having grown into a dashingly handsome, charming man, is a Casanova who has great success with women. However, although he was raised as if he were Squire Allworthy's son everyone knows he's illegitimate, and he thus cannot marry the one woman he truly loves, the beautiful Sophie Western (Susannah York). Sophie loves Tom in return, but her father Squire Western (Hugh Griffith) instead matches her up with Allworthy's nephew Blifil (David Warner), son of Allworthy's sister Bridget. Blifil is an obnoxious jerk, but he's a legitimate son of a respected man, so Tom is out of luck.
Eventually Tom goes to make his way in the world. After some adventures he meets one Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman), who knows some things about who Tom's real parents are.
David Warner makes his film debut as Blifil, starting out on a long career of playing creeps and psychos. Julian Glover, who also specialized in playing villains, make his first appearance as the loathsome cavalry officer Northerton. Lynn Redgrave also debuts as a surly barmaid.
No connection to singer Tom Jones except that the former Thomas Woodward took his stage name from the book/film.
- Aside Comment: Characters address the audience several times.
- Mrs. Waters turns to the camera and narrates a crucial plot development near the end.
- In one scene, Tom finds that all his money had been stolen while he slept, and he shouts at the chambermaid, demanding to know if it was her who robbed him. Unsatisfied with her answers, he turns to the camera and shouts "DID YOU SEE HER?! DID YOU?!"
- Aside Glance: Sophie gets in on the Breaking the Fourth Wall action during her outings with Tom.
- Attempted Rape: Tom rescues Mrs. Waters from an attempted rape by the loathesome Northerton.
- Bedsheet Ladder: This is how Sophie escapes her father's house and the Arranged Marriage with Blifil.
- Bindle Stick: All that Tom has to carry his possessions after Squire Allworthy kicks him out of the house.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Besides all the Aside Comments and Aside Glances, Tom puts his hat over the camera while he and Mrs. Waters are walking to town.
- The Casanova: Handsome, dashing Tom is irresistible to women of all sorts, but Sophie is the one he really loves.
- Dances and Balls: Lady Bellaston arranges to meet Tom by staging a fancy dress ball and sending Tom an invitation.
- Dead Man Writing: Bridget Allworthy Blifil leaves a letter behind telling of Tom's true parentage, but young Blifil intercepts it.
- Eating the Eye Candy: All the women in the film can't get enough of the handsome Tom Jones—of course, Albert Finney really was that handsome.
- Erotic Eating: Used in the scene with Tom and Mrs. Waters eat a bountiful meal while staring at each other lustfully, probably the most famous scene in the movie. Sex follows.
- Falling-in-Love Montage: A charming one between Tom and Sophie, dancing about, riding on horseback, and kissing.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: An important moment in the budding romance between Sophie and Tom comes when she is softened by Tom's broken arm—extra points because Tom broke his arm saving her from a wild horse.
- The Grand Hunt: The local nobility go out on a massive deer-hunting expedition which comes off as gross and scary. See Gross-Up Close-Up below.
- Gross-Up Close-Up: A striking sequence in which the rich folk of this particular part of western England go out hunting a deer, in a large party on horseback, with a pack of hunting dogs. They come off like the Wehrmacht rampaging through Poland. The viewer is treated to closeups of a farmer's dead goose that the aristocrats trampled, closeups of spurs digging into horseflesh and gouging wounds, and a disturbing closeup to end the scene in which Squire Western displays the corpse of the deer, with its throat slit.
- Heroic Bastard: Tom Jones, the sympathetic bastard trying to find his way in the world.
- Hypocritical Humor: Fitzpatrick is insanely jealous but is quite happy to jump into bed with Mrs. Waters while chaos ensues. This is very much Played for Laughs.
- Idiosyncratic Wipe / Iris Out / Wipe: Irises, diagonal wipes, and regular horizontal wipes are all used for scene transitions.
- Lemony Narrator: Micheál Mac Liammóir's deadpan delivery in the film.
- Masquerade Ball: Tom meets the lusty Lady Bellaston at one.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The first scene is baby Tom the foundling being discovered in the bed of Squire Allworthy.
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: "You probably don't recognize me, sir", says Mrs. Waters (the former Jenny Jones) to her old master Squire Allworthy a couple of decades after leaving his household.
- Of Corsets Sexy: After Tom rescues her from would-be rapist Northerton, Mrs. Waters is left in nothing but her corset, which she is continually threatening to pop out of.
- Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: And gender-flipped at the start with Sophie rowing the boat while Tom sits back and smokes, he having a broken arm. Then Tom is attempting to row the boat with his one good arm while Sophie sits back and smokes.
- Only a Flesh Wound: "Mr Jones, you've broken your arm!" "Indeed madame, but I have another to walk you home."
- Sexy Discretion Shot: "It shall be our custom to leave such scenes where taste, decorum, and the censor dictate."
- Silence Is Golden: The entire first scene is done in silent movie style, complete with title cards.
- Surprise Incest: Apparently the case when "Mrs. Waters" is revealed to be Jenny Jones, the servant girl who gave birth to Tom. Soon after averted however when Mrs. Waters tells Allworthy, and then the audience, that Allworthy's sister Bridget was Tom's real mother.
- Undercrank: Used in the scene where a jealous husband breaks in on Tom and Mrs. Waters, starting a madcap chase. (Tom turns to the camera and cries "Help!".)