on July 23, 2003
I have loved this movie since I saw it in its original release too many years ago. Certainly, Sir Thomas More was a magnificent person who died a martyr and has been canonized a saint. However, don't confuse the play and movie with the flesh and blood man. He was much more complex in real life than the purely noble performance of Paul Scofield. You can read the biography of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd to get at some of his complexities.
But this is a wonderful movie and I recommend it with great enthusiasm. It is a powerful movie and can have some useful at least temporary curative effect on the soul suffering under the ironical detachment and cynicism of our time. Scofield is wonderful and the definitive performance of this role. Orson Welles is quite special as the corpulent and corrupt Cardinal Wolsey. John Hurt is superb as the traitor Richard Rich. Shaw is fine as Henry VIII as is the rest of the cast.
And who can forget the line where More asks to see chain of office that Richard Rich was given to perjure himself and betray More. After examining it and being told that Sir Richard was made the Attorney General of Wales More says, "Richard, it profits a man nothing to trade his soul for the whole world, but for Wales ..." Wonderful stuff.
The disk offers the wide screen theatrical release and a full screen version for those who like to see less of the picture in order to avoid the upper and lower "bars". There is also the original trailer.
There are no other features on the disk beyond scene selection.
This disk belongs in every collection and should be reviewed regularly as an healthful tonic to help remedy the bilious nihilism of our age.
This period in English history and then the Elizabethan era which follows have always interested me. You thus can understand my appreciation of Derek Wilson's book In the Lion's Court: Power, Ambition, and Sudden Death in the Reign of Henry VIIII. Wilson focuses his primary attention on six Thomases: Wolsey, More, Cromwell, Howard, Wriothesley, and Cramner. Henry's VIII's relationships with all six serve as the basis of Wilson's narrative. By the way, there really were lions in London at that time ("the King's Beasts") housed in the Tower menagerie and a major tourist attraction. More once compared the king's court to a lion pit "in which the magnificent and deadly king of beasts held sway." Of the six, More interests me the most. His rectitude threatens and infuriates Henry, and eventually results in More's execution. Thus presented, More is a tragic but noble political victim and religious martyr, later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He is no less admirable as portrayed by Wilson but, in my opinion, is much more complicated than Bolt and others suggest. For years, More skillfully navigated his way through a court ("a lion pit") characterized by what Wilson refers to as its "seamy realities": "The royal entourage was a vicious, squirming world of competing ambitions and petty feuds, guilty secrets and salacious prudery. Courtiers, vulnerable to threats and bribes, could be induced to perjure themselves, to exaggerate amorous incidents which were innocent in the context of stylised chivalric convention, to indulge personal vendettas....Over all these momentous happenings looms the larger-than-life figure of Henry VIII, powerful and capricious yet always an enigma."
People still disagree about Robert Bolt's characterization of More in the play and then in the film for which Bolt received an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. I agree with others who insist that More was less noble than Bolt suggests. No one, however, disputes the fact that More courageously accepted decapitation rather than compromise his religious faith. Cynics suggest that More was already a dead man...and knew it. He had an estate to protect and family obligations to accommodate. I am unqualified to speculate or even comment further on More's motives even as I marvel at his survival skills when drawn into "the lion's court."
Paul Scofield received and deserved his Academy Award for best actor in a leading role. The film and director Fred Zimmermann also received Academy Awards. The cast is exceptionally talented, especially Nigel Davenport (Duke of Norfolk), Wendy Hiller (Alice Cromwell), John Hurt (Richard Rich), Leo McKern (Thomas Cromwell), Vanessa Redgrave (Ann Boleyn), Robert Shaw (Henry VIII), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), and Susannah York (Margaret More). Unlike many stage productions later filmed, this one derives substantial benefit from Ted Moore's cinematography, especially the exteriors shot throughout and beyond royal residences. Moore also received an Academy Award for his work.
Those with an especially keen interest may wish to examine The Last Letters of Thomas More as well as several solid biographies of him by Peter Ackroyd, J.A. Guy, Richard Marius, and Gerard B. Wegemer.
Films such as this are rare today; 'A Man for All Seasons' turns not on action sequences of battles past or present, nor on love affairs, or indeed political issues that have a burning relevance for today. It is not a comedy, nor a tragedy in the classic sense. In a word, it would seem to have little to recommend it -- however, it is one of the best film ever produced. Turning largely on the issue of personal integrity and the conflict of competing calls to faithfulness, this is a drama of the interior struggle of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, writ large across the political/religious landscape of Henry VIII's England.
The whole tone of the film is excellent. From the opening scenes of couriers dashing from Wolsey to More, backdrops of pre-Renaissance England fill the screen, from the magnificent but appropriate un-ornate manor houses and parliamentary scenes (the set of Westminster Hall, a building in which I once worked) to the costuming and music, period in style and instrumentation. The director Fred Zimmermann resisted the urge to provide orchestral music as a background; indeed, through much of the film, there is no music at all, as the drama itself carries the weight of the narrative and atmosphere. The cinematographer, Ted Moore, as well as the director received Academy Awards for their work.
This is an actor's film, the force of the drama being driven by their performances. Exceptional acting by John Hurt, Leo McKern, Nigel Davenport and Robert Shaw enhance lead actor Paul Scofield's Oscar-winning portrayal. Scofield presents the intellectual More as a character of supreme integrity (following Bolt's play perfectly), an integrity hard to maintain in the shifting sands of Henry VIII's drive to break with Rome to secure a divorce. More, as chancellor of England after Wolsey (portrayed in a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance by an effective but declining Orson Welles), was charged with maintaining both peace with the King and his faithfulness to the church, of which he was an acknowledged intellectual leader throughout Europe. In the end, the church won out -- as More said at his execution, 'I remain the King's good subject, but God's first.'
Hurt and McKern portray Richard Rich and Thomas Cromwell, schemers and social climbers of which royal courts are always full. Nigel Davenport as the friend who becomes an enemy, himself turned by the political tides, is also effective, but the best role beyond Scofield's is that Robert Shaw, who portrays the 'lion of England', Henry VIII, capricious and volatile, far too taken with his own sense of purpose and without many courageous enough to stand against him.
The roles of More's wife Alice (Wendy Hiller) and daughter Meg (Susannah York) are admirably played. Alice as the illiterate yet intelligent wife of More is concerned for the family's well-being; Meg as the educated daughter (More's experimental school practiced, generations ahead of its time, gender equality in education) almost steals the scene from Shaw at one point. Hiller's performance as More's companion up to the scene in the Tower is strongly portrayed, and she does not lose her character in the face of so many other powerful figures.
Rare in film-making today, the full force of the plot develops upon the device of Qui tacet consentit - silence implies consent. More relied on the legal idea that, so long as he did not speak out against the king, his silence implied consent and he was safe. However, as Cromwell (correctly) argued, More's silence was not meaningless, nor was it taken as consent by any who knew him. On this one point, More's integrity falters, for he was intelligent enough to know that the truth was different from the legal fiction; however, this was also the position he maintained regarding Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.
This is not a feel-good movie; indeed, the final narration makes one wonder rather at the idea of justice in the world. Yet it is a meaningful and stunning film, and one deserving of viewing by all.
on March 12, 2004
I just saw "A Man For All Seasons" (Fred Zinnemann's 1966 version) and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was about a man who died for his faith in the name of God. He died under the tyrannical founder of the Anglican Church (as I regret my church's origins now), King Henry the VIII. This king wanted approval of everyone in the kingdom, especially the chancellor (which is the bishop's principal legal authority), who was Sir Thomas More. By the way, the issue was primarily around the king's divorce and re-marriage, and then later trumped up for the king's assumption to the role of head of the Church of England. Sir Thomas More evaded the primary and other issue until it was forced on him and eventually he lost everything, save his pure conscious before God. I highly recommend this film esp. after seeing "The Passion of The Christ".
on July 18, 2004
Paul Scofield's quiet, dignified portrayl of Sir Thomas More is one of the most riveting performances one will ever find.
With a determined, yet not brash or unseemly stance against Henry VIII (Robert Shaw, in all his young glory), More creates a devastating question for the viewer: how long do our principles remain dear to us. To discomfort? To imprisonment? To death?
Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of More's character is that he does not waver. It is a quality that is only universal in the sense that it is respected by all men and possessed by very few.
In the end, perhaps the only validation More is given is the dignity of his death, his detractors exposed as dishonest, biased men. Is that enough? Certainly More was able to change little of history by the manner of his death. It did not stop the divorce OR the Anglican church. Perhaps the only prize integrity has is itself. Certainly More himself believed a much higher reward awaited him. After watching this movie, regardless of religion, you will find yourself hoping he was right.
on July 16, 2003
In the modern day, powerful men frequently divorce their wives with minimal repercussions on society as a whole. In the time of King Henry VIII, Henry's divorce caused a major rift between church and state that redefined the political landscape in Europe. Fred Zinnemann's "A Man for All Seasons" chronicles this event and captures all the moral and practical dueling that took place in the wake of one monarch's desire to move onto a new wife.
King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) desperately wants to marry Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave) so that he can sire a male heir. When the Chancellor of England, Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), refuses to support the King's divorce from his current wife, Henry turns his back on Rome and the Pope and appoints himself as the head of the Church of England. Troubled by this wanton disregard of the law, More refuses to publicly acknowledge King Henry in his new position. His stubbornness to stick to his morals eventually leads to his imprisonment and eventual execution.
"A Man for All Seasons" plays like a film out of time. Its strong honorable message seems dated in a contemporary society where role models are scarcer than ever. Yet it still remains an inspiring story that reminds us of how noble the human spirit can be when it does not buckle under the pressures of morally-dubious forces. The performances in the film from top to bottom are outstanding. Scofield richly deserved his Best Actor Oscar and Shaw shines in his role as Henry. Leo McKern, John Hurt, Orson Welles, Susannah York also turn in strong work with York being particularly effective as More's headstrong yet devoted daughter. If anyone needs a refresher course on how to detect the finer distinctions between right and wrong then a viewing "A Man for All Seasons" would be a good starting point.
on January 25, 1999
This is one of those movies that you keep reading or hearing good things about but you just put off because it seems so, well....boring. It is, a little. This isn't a movie to watch late at night when you're tired. But the payoff is worthwhile. The story centers around Sir Thomas More, a 16th-century statesman, judge, & philosopher. His most famous legacy was the social commentary "Utopia".
More, as Chancellor of England, becomes involved in a feud with King Henry VIII (he of many wives fame) over who controls the church in England. This feud involves no swords, daggers, crossbows, or cups of arsenic. It is one of words, and of one man's ability to use them to an extent so rarely seen. In this day of Jerry Springer et al, his ability to communicate & his own self-restraint is magnificent.
With all the movies that bombard your senses these days, it is nice to have a more subtle movie that opens your mind.
Six Academy Awards. Well worth your time.
on November 4, 1998
Sir Robert Bolt's " A Man For All Seasons" is a familiar story, but Bolt's telling of it is always fresh. The motion picture version won 6 Academy Awards in 1966 including "Best Screenplay" (Bolt), "Best Actor" (Paul Scofield), Best Director (Fred Zinneman), and finally "Best Picture". There are fine performances by Robert Shaw (Henry VIII), Susannah York (More's daughter), and Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey).The story is set against King Henry VIII's break with Rome, made necessary by his desire to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. When Sir Thomas More refused to sign the Act of Supremacy, he was brought to trial on trumped-up charges and ultimately beheaded. More had sought refuge in the letter of the law, but he was required to state his approval of the Act in an oath --an oath which would have required him to state something that he did not believe. For More, an oath was an invitation to God to act as witness and judge. According to Bolt himself, the oath would have shattered his integrity, his humanity, that "...something within himself without which life is meaningless." Contrast More with the character, Lilly, of "The Grifters", a modern character who finds fewer and fewer things that she is unwilling to do. She will make any compromise to survive, including the attempted sexual seduction of her own son. In the end she kills him, and escapes the bloody crime scene in an elevator going ominously down...down...down. Both plays: "A Man For All Seasons"and "The Grifters" are about the "self" and express the Jean Paul Sartre view that "man is nothing but what he make of himself".
on January 18, 1999
A Man For All Seasons is a very good movie. I wouldn't say it was action packed and kept gripping you every moment that Thomas More appeared on the screen but it was definitely a true movie that showed a good, wholesome morality trip which is something that is desperately needed in today's society. Many people have this bad habit of ignoring their conscience and doing whatever they feel like doing, but I respect and admire Thomas More. He was a good Christian who never let the world change his morals OR his conscience. I would not say that A Man For All Seasons is the best movie I've ever seen but I must admit, if you want an insightful look deeper into your own of thinking about yourself, A Man For All Seasons then becomes a must-see-before-you-die-sometime-in-a-lifetime movie.
on January 20, 1999
I just saw the movie "A Man for All Seasons." I thought that the movie was ok but a few great scenes brought it up. I thought that the last two scenes were brilliant. In most movies the hero lives. In this movie the last two scenes deal with the trial and death. I also thought the best scene in the movie was one of the later ones. It was the one where More's family was at the tower of London (where he was being held) with him. I thought that was one of the better scenes because I thought that that it was the turning point for him. They tried to convince him to take the oath, but he wouldn't. At that moment the church, England, and Thomas More's family realized that he wasn't going to change his mind. He was determined to stand for what he thought was right.