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- A Man for All Seasons
- Runtime:120 min
- Release Date:2014-03-08 01:48:59
- Director: Fred Zinnemann
- Genres: Biography, Drama
MOVIE REVIEW:A Man for All Seasons
Paul Scofield's superb performance as Sir Thomas More is the highlight
of this very solid film adaptation of Robert Bolt's play depicting some
of the behind the scenes scheming around King Henry VIII's decision to
divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Ann Boleyn, the Pope's
refusal to sanction to divorce and re-marriage and the resulting schism
in the English church.
More is portrayed here as a man of deep convictions, torn between two
competing claims to his allegiance: the claim of the King and the claim
of God, which he interpreted as loyalty to the Pope. A trusted adviser
to Henry, who became for a time Lord Chancellor of England, More's
convictions were finally put to the test when Parliament passed a law
making Henry Supreme Head of the Church in England. Unable to agree to
that (which would have effectively meant denouncing the Pope's
supremacy over the church) More was charged with treason, faced trial
and was ultimately executed. For the most part, the events depicted
here seem fairly consistent with the historical record as I know it.
Scofield did a marvellous job of depicting More's courage in standing
for what he believed to be right, even though it would eventually cost
him his life. The account of More's trial, near the end of the movie,
was – while brief – very believable.
It's a long time since I've dealt with the stage play of the same name.
If memory serves, this is a reasonably good adaptation – which it
should be, since Robert Bolt also wrote the screenplay. It's not an
action movie by any means, but is rather a solid and steady account of
one man's convictions – and the price he was willing to pay to stand by
The award winning film of Robert Bolt's play about the conflict between
a petulant King Henry VIII and his principled Lord Chancellor Thomas
Moore shows, with powerful simplicity, how even in 16th century England
a man of honor had no place in the netherworld of politics. Henry wants
to marry his mistress Anne Bolyn, but Moore, with stubborn (and
ultimately fatal) integrity, refuses to sanction the King's divorce
from Catherine of Aragon, leaving himself at the mercy of influential
and unscrupulous men (chief among them the King's cynical, lickspittle
henchman Cromwell) anxious to see Henry's wishes granted at any cost.
The language employed in Bolt's play is often more rich and stately
than royalty itself, but not enough to hide the treachery and
corruption lurking just beneath the panoply of courtly manners. Here,
for once, is a convincing period piece with all the intrigue but none
of the fluff of a Hollywood historical drama, played to the hilt by an
exceptional cast of actors, who leave director Fred Zinnemann with
little to do except make sure the costumes were straight and the
scenery in focus.
What can I say about A Man for All Seasons that hasn't been said
already? Other than to say it is a wonderful film, with a brilliant
cast? And that it is for me Fred Zinnerman's best film along with A
Nun's Story? A Man For All Seasons is beautifully filmed, with lavish
photography and costumes and a brilliant use of sets and locations. The
story is never less than compelling, Fred Zinnerman's direction is
impeccable and the dialogue is moving and intelligent.
And of course, how can I not write this review without mentioning the
cast? Robert Shaw is a different Henry VIII, younger, thinner and is
quite intelligent with a lot of political skill. Orson Welles is a fine
Cardinal Wolsey and John Hurt in his first major role is suitably
eloquent, while Leo McKern, Susannah York and Vanessa Redgrave play
their roles with aplomb. Easily though, the best performance comes from
Paul Scofield, who is simply brilliant as Sir Thomas Moore, with a
balance of virtue and vanity.
All in all, a splendid film, elevated by Scofield and the rest of the
cast. 10/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To celebrate my 800th review for IMDb I turn to another of my favourite
films. Fred Zinnemann is one of my favourite directors, for three
reasons. Firstly, he made "High Noon", my all-time favourite Western.
Secondly, he made "From Here to Eternity", another great film of the
early fifties. Thirdly he made "A Man for All Seasons", which must be
the greatest ever film about British history.
The screenplay was adapted by Robert Bolt from his play of the same
name and tells the story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century writer,
scholar, lawyer, philosopher and theologian who became Lord Chancellor
of England and a confidant of Henry VIII. More, however, resigned his
office because he disagreed with the King over his divorce from
Catherine of Aragon and his break with Rome, disagreements which were
to lead to More's execution after conviction on false charges of
treason. Today More is regarded as a saint, not only by the Catholic
Church but also (remarkably) by the Anglican Church.
When I first saw the film as a teenager, I had little knowledge of the
historical background, but today I am well aware that the Catholic
church had, throughout history, used charges of heresy to silence and
persecute those who disagreed with its teachings, often over minor
points of doctrine, and that as Lord Chancellor More had played a part
in the persecution of Lutherans. (Henry at this time was still regarded
as a loyal son of the Church). These matters are not mentioned in the
film, and some have seen Bolt as dishonest for praising More's courage
while ignoring the sufferings of his equally courageous religious
Does this matter? In my view it does not. Bolt was not a Catholic but
an agnostic, and wrote his play not to make propaganda for one religion
against another but because he saw More as a man of conscience and
integrity who remained true to his principles even under threat of
death. The title is borrowed from a description by a contemporary of
More, but it also reflects Bolt's view of More as a man for all time.
For the film, Bolt abandoned some of the Brechtian devices used in the
play, clearly feeling that these would not work in the cinema. In
particular, there is no "Common Man", the character who acts as the
narrator in the play. The film does, however, retain something of the
character of a play, with the story presented in a formal, stylised
way. Unusually for a film derived from a stage play, it is very
visually attractive with memorable scenes, such as that opening boat
ride down the Thames against a backdrop of the setting sun. The sets
and costumes are very good and combine with Georges Delerue's excellent
musical score to give a vivid sense of Tudor life.
The main reason why I love this film is the quality of the acting.
Zinnemann was an American, and there was an obvious temptation to have
More played by a major Hollywood star, such as Charlton Heston who
greatly admired Bolt's play and had campaigned to get the role. (Heston
was eventually to produce and star in his own version more than twenty
years later). Zinnemann, however, resisted this temptation and insisted
on using Paul Scofield who had created the role on stage, even though
the producers would have preferred a better-known name like Richard
Burton or Laurence Olivier. Zinnemann was absolutely right, because
Scofield gives a towering performance which rightly won him a Best
Actor Oscar, brilliantly demonstrating not only his character's moral
integrity but also such other qualities as wisdom, humour, powers of
intellect and love for his family.
Apart from Orson Welles, all the supporting cast were British.
(Although Leo McKern was born in Australia, he spent most of his career
in Britain). All were excellent; there is not a single poor
performance. Those I would single out for special mention are:-
Robert Shaw as King Henry. Shaw plays the King as an outwardly jovial
character whose air of bluff good fellowship conceals a hot temper and
an intolerance of any opposition to his wishes. This was a much more
convincing portrayal of England's most notorious monarch than Eric
Bana's in the recent "The Other Boleyn Girl".
John Hurt as Richard Rich, a young friend of More who treacherously
betrays him in the interests of self-advancement. (More has refused to
find Rich a position at Court, fearing that he lacks the strength of
character to resist the temptations he will find there). This was
Hurt's first major role and helped establish him as a promising
Welles in a brief cameo as Cardinal Wolsey, played as the supreme
politician who realises, too late, that realpolitik is not enough.
Wendy Hiller as More's loyal wife Alice, who continues to love him and
stand beside him, even if she cannot always understand his motivation.
McKern as Thomas Cromwell, a cynical, unscrupulous man on the make who
acts as the bullying prosecutor at More's trial.
Corin Redgrave as More's fiery son-in-law William Roper, who perhaps
reflects Redgrave's own personality. (He was a passionately committed
Marxist). Redgrave's sister Vanessa appears briefly as Anne Boleyn.
Nigel Davenport as the Duke of Norfolk, another friend of More. Unlike
Rich, Norfolk is not portrayed as a villain but a basically decent if
intellectually undistinguished man who does his best to protect his
· Besides Scofield's "Best Picture", the film also won awards for Best
Picture and "Best Director" for Zinnemann. Certainly, the Academy have
at times honoured some unworthy titles, but this is not one of them.
Few films have deserved "Best Picture" more. It remains as relevant
today as it ever was, a film for all seasons. 10/10
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