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A Man For All Seasons Movie Review

scofield zinnemann robert fred

1966 – Fred Zinnemann –

Robert Bolt's celebrated play about Sir Thomas More and his clash with Henry VIII finds the right director in Fred Zinnemann, who specialized in films of conscience. More (Paul Scofield) sees the king's (Robert Shaw) desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in moral terms. The film sanitizes the Renaissance and its hero (as More biographer Richard Marius points out in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies); other than a brief outburst to his future son-in-law (Corin Redgrave), nothing suggests that this More, like the real one, would have persecuted his version of heretics as rigorously as Henry did his. But Bolt and Zinnemann are more concerned with making a film about a hero—a saint—than with accuracy of personality. And they succeed. The film finds a real grandeur in the presentation of its hero.

Scofield had played the part on stage in both London and New York, and his understated acting, precise schoolmasterly diction, and soft voice nicely offset the growing drama of the political conflict. Scofield seems remote in the part (until the final fury at the close of the trial), but the view of More that Bolt presents in his screenplay is so heroic that this approach seems best. The audience sees More as his family does, a larger-than-life, truly uncommon man set apart by his spirituality. His humanness comes from his understandable willingness to avoid the confrontation with Henry by using the evasion of silence and in his knowledge of the way the world sets traps to ensnare the good man. More's great gift is his ability to see the eternal in the everyday; he wants to nurse his soul through the obstacle course of life without having the crafty world of the royal court fleece him of it.

A wonderful scene toward the end features Meg (Susannah York) coming to her father in the tower and attempting to use her education and training to reason him into accepting the Act of Succession. In reply More relies on his own forensic skills to out-argue her, but York and Scofield brilliantly communicate their mutual love. The daughter of Thomas More knows to use the language of logic if she is to have any success; the father takes pride in his daughter's ability to make such points persuasively in an age when educated women were rare. It is one of the great insights of Robert Bolt's script that this is the way such a father and daughter would show their love for one another—through a debate, even in a dungeon.

Cast: Paul Scofield (Sir Thomas More), Wendy Hiller (Alice More), Leo McKern (Thomas Cromwell), Robert Shaw (King Henry VIII), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), Susannah York (Margaret More), Nigel Davenport (The Duke of Norfolk), John Hurt (Richard Rich), Corin Redgrave (William Roper), Colin Blakely (Matthew), Cyril Luckham (Archbishop Cranmer), Jack Gwyllim (Chied Justice), Thomas Heathcote (Boatman), Yootha Joyce (Averil Machin), Anthony Nicholls (King's Representative) Screenwriter: Robert Bolt Cinematographer: Ted Moore Composer: Georges Delerue Producer: Fred Zinnemann for Columbia Pictures MPAA Rating: G Running Time: 120 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1966: Actor (Paul Scofield), Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Costume Design (Color), Director (Fred Zinnemann); Nominations: Supporting Actor (Robert Shaw), Supporting Actress (Wendy Hiller); British Academy Awards, 1967: Actor (Paul Scofield), Film, Screenplay; Golden Globe Awards, 1967: Actor—Drama (Paul Scofield), Director (Fred Zinnemann), Film—Drama, Screenplay; National Board of Review Awards 1966: 10 Best Films of the Year, Actor (Paul Scofield), Director (Fred Zinnemann), Supporting Actor (Robert Shaw); New York Film Critics Awards, 1966: Actor (Paul Scofield), Director (Fred Zinnemann), Film, Screenplay Box Office: $12.8M (rentals).

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