A Man for All Seasons (1966)
February 21, 2019 8:51 AM - Subscribe

The story of Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII when the King rejected the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarry.

From 1966, one of a string of costume dramas based on events in English history produced during the 1960s, including Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), and Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

Wiki's list of accolades, including six Oscar wins (Best Picture, Director, and Actor among them) and two more nominations (Best Supporting Actor and Actress).

There were those who admired it and those who didn't when it came out.

Post-Oscars trailer
posted by Fukiyama (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is Paul Scofield's movie. One either buys into his performance or one doesn't. He was More in stage in London and in New York and Zinnemann fought for him over the likes of Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.

Did he deserve Best Actor over the other nominees that year? That's a tough one. I probably would vote for Steve McQueen. The Sand Pebbles is a family favorite and I am named after McQueen's character in that movie. I enjoy Scofield's performance, but I do see where Pauline Kael comes from when she wrote in her review, "[B]ut then we are left with Scofield—so refined, so controlled, so dignified, so obviously “subtle”—just the way a man of conscience in a school play would be expected to behave."

The supporting players are all fun to watch. Robert Shaw ought to be known for this movie along with From Russia with Love and Jaws. The obvious comparison is to Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days three years later: I prefer Shaw to Burton as Henry VIII.

Wendy Hiller as Alice More who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Susannah York (Superman's mom!) as daughter Margaret do great work, especially at the end in their final meeting in the Tower. And Margaret conversing with Henry in Latin is fun!
posted by Fukiyama at 9:25 AM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love this movie. It definitely helped reinforce my love of history when I saw this when I was young (vhs not in theaters). It's cool to see the Cromwell name pop up, and though learning more about More takes some of the bloom off the rose that the movie builds up about him.
posted by Carillon at 9:25 AM on February 21, 2019

I love this movie. I read the play and watched the movie as a young homeschooled kid learning about the English Reformation, and a lot of it has stuck with me. Years later, one of the law schools I applied to sent copies of the play to everybody on acceptance, and my legal ethics class watched it for (I believe extra) credit.

The exchange between Moore and Roper about "cutting down all the laws" to get to the devil has stuck with me ever since I first read it. And the political situation in America has called to mind Moore's mocking aside to Rich, "... but for Wales?"
posted by gauche at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I liked the film but I loved the play. The play has a device of a character called "The Common Man" (originally played by Leo McKern) who serves as a narrator and also pops up from time in various small parts – More's servant, a publican, a boatman, More's jailer, jury foreman and his executioner. Bolt created the Common Man to illustrate the place and influence of the average person in history, but also, Brecht-like, to try to prevent the audience from sympathising with the more titled characters, even including More. Dramatically, the film suffers from this character's loss, and the meaning of the play is skewed. Kael's comment (above) about Scofield's performance is true, but on stage with the Common Man, that would have been exactly the way to play More.
posted by ubiquity at 11:14 AM on February 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

ubiquity: Have you seen the 1988 television movie with Charlton Heston in the More role? That movie is much closer to the play and keeps the Common Man character. I have seen it and enjoyed it.
posted by Fukiyama at 12:25 PM on February 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Now you're reminding me of the high/lowlight of my college theater in 1973... I played Cardinal Wolsey, who was the Lord High Chancellor before Moore and had an intense first act arguing with More before being killed off stage (I took of my Cardinal costume and symbolically tossed it onstage when my character's death was announced). Seven minutes of intense acting then take the rest of the night off.

Wolsey was portrayed in the movie by Orson Welles, and I was picked for the role for my physical resemblance, not any vocal resemblance, so rehearsals were a constant process of being cajoled to "project your voice more". But my favorite line in the role (and the only one I remember 45 years later) was "Our ambassador's a ninny", which once I got the rest of my performance down, I tried delivering in voices other than Orson's (Paul Lynde, Don Adams, etc.)

The performance was not a failure but it did lead to me exiting the Theater program in favor of College Radio.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:53 PM on February 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was shown this movie in grade 8 social studies class. I remember being blown away by the depiction of Henry the VIII early on in the film. The jovial funny character laughing and joking as an exercise and demonstration of raw power. As my teacher put it "He was the king. If he said 'die' you died". Stuck with me.

Also as gauche said and because it always bears repeating:

"Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."
posted by Grimgrin at 6:49 PM on February 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wow! Leo McKern as the Common Man?!? I would have killed to see that.

A couple things: In retrospect, the casting of my high school production was spot on. Which was great except for they saw me as a Richard Rich type.

Also, while excellent in and of itself, Wolf Hall would not have been such a sensation were it not a contrarian take on A Man For All Seasons.
posted by whuppy at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Wolf Hall would not have been such a sensation were it not a contrarian take on A Man For All Seasons.

I don't think so. A Man for All Seasons was forty years old or so when Wolf Hall came out. Most people, even most educated people, have never seen it, and wouldn't care about any "take" on it. The hagiography (literally) of More, and the general struggle over the meaning of the English Reformation, is much bigger than that, and to the extent it's a "contrarian take," that's what it's on.

(I did enjoy the movie, and Scofield's performance, but it's designed to flatter the audience in much the way a Sorkin script is.)
posted by praemunire at 9:58 AM on February 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Point taken, praemunire. I was conflating.

To someone on this side of the pond who was spoonfed the Catholic hagiography of St Tommy "forever" More, Wolf Hall was a thrilling contrast.

PS please don't ruin the play for me by pointing out its proto-Sorkinesque nature.
posted by whuppy at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Robert Bolt had some real winners. This one, of course, coming from the stage, is pretty stagey. But Lawrence of Arabia pretty much defines the word "cinematic." I thought he did an impressive job with the impossible task of condensing Doctor Zhivago. You'd think another go with Bolt & Lean on 70mm in the gorgeous scenery of Ireland would pan out in Ryan's Daughter, but that one's entirely forgettable. So much so that it was really hard to find for many years. My university had a screening and I was really excited to go as a fan of Bolt and Lean. I was incredibly disappointed: it was just kind of a mess, and no more a classic than Far & Away.

I was a big fan of The Mission when it first came out. Such a great soundtrack, and Jeremy Irons and Robert deNiro acting it up. But I was a devout Catholic then; I don't know if it would hold up for me now. I feel like there was enough ambiguity between the characters' points of view that it might.

These days, though, his work feels less weighty because it's so male-centered. In Bolt's world, women are lucky to get even a supporting role (was there a single female speaking role in Lawrence?).
posted by rikschell at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Brian Blessed in Henry 8.0. Now there's a Henry VIII!
posted by Naberius at 7:12 PM on February 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

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