I trust I make myself obscure- Thomas More
The 1967 Oscar Best Picture Winner is a period piece that focuses on a much debated period of scandalous English History. Based on a play of the same name, A Man For All Seasons follows Sir Thomas More as he attempts to stay loyal to his religion while also serving his country. A film that is somehow royal and elegant at the same time, this film does not have a weak link. Winning six Oscars, this film is a great example of an Oscar Best Picture Winner.
This film begins with a seemingly simple request that serves as the conflict for the rest of the film. Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) is summoned to Cardinal Wolesy’s (Orson Welles) and asked to support King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) in his desire to obtain a divorce with Pope’s permission. More refuses to give support, seeing it as an affront to his religious beliefs. Though pressured to do so, More refuses and leaves. Upon arriving home he finds Richard Rich (John Hurt) waiting for him. Wanting power, Rich ask More for a position at Court, More refuses trying to protect the young man from corruption. When Wolsey passes away, More is made Chancellor of England. Shorty after his appointment, the King makes an impromptu visit to More’s home. Asking about the divorce, it quickly becomes clear that More’s conscious will not allow him to dissolve the King’s marriage. The King makes a number of thinly veiled threats before leaving in a rage. Richard Rich is approached by More’s political adversary Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern) and asked to spy on More. Rich asks for More’s help once more and once more is denied.
Meanwhile King Henry, tired of waiting for approval, declares himself to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Requiring confirmation that everybody sees him as such, Thomas More is unable to accept the King as the head of the church and quietly resigns as Chancellor. Unwilling to acknowledge Anne Boleyn, the King’s new wife, as Queen and refusing to attend the wedding, More is taken to Court for treason. An expert in law, More knows that if he refuses to speak his ideas then he can’t be convicted of treason because ha has not made a treasonous act. Careful to discuss his ideas with nearly nobody, there does not seem to be a single witness to More giving a treasonous statement. Chromwell eventually calls Richard Rich to the stand and it becomes clear that he has betrayed More for a position at court. With the evidence needed, More is found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
This film was an extremely well done film. The film (based on a play) is eloquently written, filled with a number of beautiful soliloquies and speeches. Though the language of the film does not have the same vocabulary, slang and verbiage that we use today, the skill in acting makes sure there is no misunderstanding the lines. There was no weak performance in the entire film but my opinion Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw both gave the best performances. Robert Shaw does not have much screen time but when he is on screen he commands it with a ferocity that matches his character. Paul Scofield is enthralling as Thomas More, giving the character a subtle nature that accentuates his brilliance and his torment as to how to handle his situation. More wants to be loyal to his King but cannot betray his moral and religious conciseness.
This is an example of a film that I am very happy to have seen but feel no need to see again. Beating Alfie, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, the Sand Pebbles and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Best Picture the film also won five more Oscars. Fred Zinnemann won for Best Directing, Robert Bolt won for Best Adapted Screenplay, the film won Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Paul Scofield earned the Oscar for Best Actor that he most certainly deserved. This film, while a little dry, was very well done, a B grade. While the topic does not seem to be the most scintillating, the acting and writing work to make this an enthralling and engaging film.