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The story takes place in 16th century England. But men like Sir Thomas More, who love life yet have the moral fiber to lay down their lives for their principles, are found in every century. Concentrating on the last seven years of English chancellor's life, the struggle between More and his King, Henry VIII, hinges on Henry's determination to break with Rome so he can divorce his current wife and wed again, and good Catholic More's inability to go along with such heresy. More resigns as chancellor, hoping to be able to live out his life as a private citizen. But Henry will settle for nothing less than that the much respected More give public approval to his headstrong course. Written by
Lord Chancellor Woolsey did not die in office; he was removed from the office of Lord Chancellor by Henry (because of his displeasure at Woolsey's failure to secure a divorce from Catherine), and died more than a year after Sir Thomas More became Lord Chancellor. Woolsey did, however, remain Archbishop of York. See more »
[first spoken lines are over 6 minutes into the film]
...there's the country every second bastard born is fathered by a priest.
[clears throat to get More's attention]
Why, in Utopia, that couldn't be.
Well, there the priests are very holy.
Therefore, very few.
Sir Thomas More:
Is it anything interesting, Matthew?
Bless you, sir, I don't know.
[...] See more »
Fred Zinnemann's one of our great forgotten directors, amazing considering that he was nominated for eight directing Oscars in four decades, winning two. Today's critics and auteurs don't champion him; you won't read much about him in "Entertainment Weekly." For Zinnemann, the script was the thing, what he worked from, and his greatest genius may have been in choosing the right scripts and knowing how to do them justice.
"From Here To Eternity" may well be Zinnemann at his highest tide, though IMDb voters seem to prefer "High Noon." Then there's "A Man For All Seasons," the film of the year in 1966, though its hard to imagine a film that represents the ethos of the 1960s less. "A Man For All Seasons" presents us with an unfashionable character who refuses to surrender his conscience to the dictates of king and countrymen, resolute instead in his devotion to God and Roman Catholic Church.
"When statesmen lead their country without their conscience to guide them, it is short road to chaos," Thomas More tells his nominal boss, Cardinal Wolsey, when the latter unsuccessfully presses him to give his blind assent to King Henry VIII's request for a convenient divorce. Perhaps out of pique, Wolsey makes sure More inherits his office of Counselor of the Realm, where More's sterling convictions are really put to the test.
More is a marvel of subtleties, tensile steel covered in a velvet glove, a mild-mannered lion trying at every turn to do well even though his political savvy knows how dangerous that can be. As a lawyer, More knows the angles, yet he is no sharpie. He respects the law too much for that. Rather, he sees in law the only hope for man's goodness in a fallen world. "I'd give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake," he explains.
Paul Scofield plays More in such a way as to make us not only admire him but identify with him, and come to value both his humanness and his spirituality. His tired eyes, the way he gently rebuffs would-be bribers around Hampton Court, his genuine professions of loyalty to Henry even as he disagrees with the matter of his divorce, all speak to one of those great gifts of movies, which is the ability to create a character so well-rounded and illuminating in his window on the human condition we find him more haunting company than the real people we meet in life. It's a gift the movies seldom actually deliver on, so when someone like Scofield makes it happen, it is a object of gratitude as much as admiration.
The script, adapted by Robert Bolt from his stage play, is very literate and careful to explain the facts of More's dilemma. It moves too slowly and opaquely at times to qualify "A Man For All Seasons" as a true classic, that and a supporting cast full of one-note performances, though some are quite good (a few, however, are notably flat.) I especially liked Robert Shaw as a young and thin Henry VIII, full of vigor yet also a childish temperament and inconsistent mind. He demands More not oppose his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then decides he must have either More's outright assent or else his head. There's no bargaining with such a man. Perhaps More was better off standing on his principals as he did than climbing into bed with homicidal Henry. Just ask Anne.
Zinnemann presents some interesting visual images in "A Man For All Seasons," letting the period detail inform the story without overwhelming it. Several times, such as during the opening credits, inside More's cell at the Tower of London, and during More's trial, the camera shoots through narrow openings surrounded by high stone walls, a reminder not only of More's own trapped situation but the human condition. Aspirations of divinity may be unfashionable, even dangerous to one's health, but they present mankind with its one hope for overcoming its base nature, the dead-end character of temporality. "A Man For All Seasons" is a rallying cry for just such an approach to life, and remains undeniably effective in its artful, artless way.
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