"A Man for All Seasons" (1966)

I had somehow managed to go until this month without seeing this terrific film, even though it was released just three years after my birth. Thanks to Channel Five for broadcasting it so I could be enlightened. Paul Scofield was awesome, of course, and I also enjoyed Robert Shaw’s performance and the early John Hurt role very much. The only difficulty was in watching Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell without thinking of him as Swami Clang in the prior year’s “Help!”

Any other fans out there?

I love this movie (partly because I’m Catholic and some of the religious beliefs are expressed so beautifully)! Right up there with my all-time favorites.

This is my all-time favorite movie. I much prefer it to the later remake starring Charlton Heston. I actually prefer the play, and I’d love to have seen Scofield in that (he originated the role in London). I have seen one performance, but didn’t like it much (although I’d loved to have seen Frank Langella’s Broadway performance last month. Dammit!)
All in all, Robert Bolt did a great job turning his break-the-fourth-wall play into an entirely different movie, keeping most of the great interchanges. Scofield, as More, gets all the good lines, and he;'s a man of Principle and Integrity. Many of his lines are taken verbatim from his writings or reported speech.
The History Channel did, I understand, one of those pieces comparing the film with real life, which I haven’t seen, and would like to. From what I’ve heard, their complaint isn’t that the play/movie is inaccurate, but that it’s incomplete, not mentioning, for instance, Bishop Fischer of Rochester, who did get executed long before More for his opposition to the King.
For me, the jarring thing about watching Leo McKern is seeing Rumpole losing his case. But then, it’s just as jarring that he’s prosecuting, and an obviously innocent man at that. I console myself with the thought that it isn’t really Rumpole doing this, but Number 2.

(And I can’t believe how young he looks. Ditto for that baby, John Hurt.)

Cal and I have crossed paths before in our admiration of the film.

One point of accuracy I like to mention is that Bolt followed the Paris Newsletter’s account of More’s trial and execution very closely.

Orson Welles as Wolsey is brilliant in his scene with More. And I love More’s final zinger and Wolsey’s reaction: “More! You should have been a cleric!” “Like yourself, your Grace?” :smiley:

The scene in the Tower with the wife never fails to move me greatly.

It is a true classic. I love it when I find out someone hasn’t seen it and I can introduce them to it.

While there’s definitely no comparison twixt the original and the remake, the Heston version is surprisingly good. One reason is that it incorporates more elements from the play, especially the Everyman (played, in his last full performance, by the great everyman Roy Kinnear). I don’t believe it’s on DVD, but it’s worth a viewing if it is.

Favorite moments/touches from the 1966 version:

Orson Welles as Wollesley (who he resembled in girth and air of importance/intelligence/scheming). He also incorporated Wolsey’s line from Shakespeare’s HENRY VIII that wasn’t in the play AMFAS-

I love the sets of More’s home. Whether Gone With the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, or other, I love ruined mansions in movie, especially when you’ve seen the before as well as the after.

I also love the sequence of seasons changing as Sir Thomas looks outside his cell window. And his “I married a lioness” scene.

One of my favorite exchanges in any play is from AMFAS:

And it’s still very relevant.

Of course one of the few things that THE TUDORS got remotely correct was their portrayal of More, showing that before he was a prisoner of conscience and a victim of tyranny, he was every bit the gaoler of conscience and the perpetrator of tyranny. He damned numerous Protestants to the flames while he was in power.

And I wanted to add two other favorite moments. The line

I had to tell a friend once why this was funny by saying “imagine your soul is worth more than all America but you settle for Alabama, minus the beaches and the steel mills”.

But it’s The “Sermon on the Mount/bitch in the pedigree” scene is where Scofield, imo, really NAILS the character. No idea if it was his Oscar clip or not, but it should have been.

Ah, wonderful “goosebumps” scene. And “our friendship was mere sloth” is one of the coldest “SNAP!” lines in English drama.

In the play The Common Man (not the Everyman as I said above, lest nitpickers point it out) has two lines I also love (I’m paraphrasing):

“The sixteenth century was the age of the common man. Just like every other.”

“My master Thomas More is the most generous man you’ll ever meet. He can’t refuse anything to anybody. Some say that’s a good thing. Some say it’s a bad thing. I say… hmmm… I say he can’t help it. And that’s bad. Because one day somebody is going to ask him for something he does not want to give, and he’ll be out of practice.”

One of my five favorite movies ever. My favorite scenes have all been mentioned.

As someone has already mentioned, Charlton Heston did a TV version that was really quite good. He played the role of More several times on stage as well(once with his own wife playing Alice), and lusted after the movie role in the film. But he thought Scofield did a splendid job as More, and, in his autobiography, called Scofield one of the best actors of his generation.

I loved Wendy Hiller as Lady Alice!

Another major inaccuracy is that they make such a major point that More never said that Henry was wrong. This is true but only in the narrow legalistic sense - what the script never mentions is that More wrote several books in which he denounced Henry’s actions (albeit without mentioning the King specifically by name). The script ignores this in order to make More look completely innocent and undeserving of his fate. The reality is that while the law was unjust, More was guilty of knowingly and repeatedly breaking it.

Actually, and sadly, this isn’t quiite what he said in the film. Instead of “…naked to mine enemies”, he says “…to die in this place.”, which isn;t as poetic.
Actually, that scene jarred me the first time I saw the film (which was before I read the play), and it still bugs me. You see Welles, as Wolseley, lying on his back, eyes open and still, as monks chant about him. The Duke of Norfolk strides arrogantly into the chamber, goes over to the Chain of Oddice of the Chancellor, and reverently takes it (Norfolk seems to care mre about the State than the Church), and drapes it over his arm, then abruptly turns and asks Welles “Have you any message for His Majesty?”

"What? " I cried, “Can’t you see the guy’s dead?”

And Then Welles Answers him.with that line. This freaked me out. If you’re going to have a guy dying, let us know somehow that he’s not dead yet. I got the impression that Norfolk’s boorishness could raise Cardinals from the Dead.

Like the OP I finally got round to watching this film the other day (actually, I’m 90% through, just before what looks like is shaping up to be More’s climactic closing speech). I’m enjoying it, but also finding it a bit confusing the way the story abruptly jumps forward. One minute Cardinal Wolsey and More are locking horns, the next minute Wolsey is lying in some hut dying. Later, More wonders whether he can find a way to take the oath, then wham, suddenly he’s a prisoner in the tower.

In part this is down to my appalling ignorance of the history of the period, I suppose. I don’t really know who most of these people are.

Who do oyu need more information about?

Thomas Wolsey was a a commoner (his father was a village butcher and cattle merchant) who became a priest and rose to become Lord Chancelor, the most powerful man in England after the king (essentially Henry VIII’s deputy and in many ways more responsible for running the kingdom than Henry himself). He was corrupt (lived lavishly, had a mistress and children, took bribes, etc.) but brilliant and the king depended on him heavily, but he was also hated by many of Henry’s nobles. He fell from favor for several reasons, but his failure to obtain a divorce was the fatal one. He would have been imprisoned had he not died of natural causes instead.

This is why the “you should have been a cleric”… “Like you, your grace” exchange is barbed. Wolsey’s corruption is the reason More had no desire to enter the church.

Continuing the above (the abridged/Cliff Notes version)

Thomas More- He was the son of a judge and a woman from the minor aristocracy (i.e. they were neither rich nor peasants) and he was recognized as a prodigy as a child. He was educated by priests and later in the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury (again- because he was a prodigy) and he really did come very close to becoming a cleric, but by the time he was a young man he’d already become disgusted by the politics and corruption of the church’s priests and bishops. He became a lawyer instead, toyed with the pre-Luther protestant/separatist religious theories- was a close friend of Erasmus among other reformers and philosophers- but he ultimately came back to a notion that the [Catholic] church was correct, it just needed cleaning up. (Wrote some books about it… wanna hear it? Here it go…)

He was considered the most eloquent writer in England (Utopia, a word he coined [Gk. ou topos- no place], is considered his masterwork) and an equally great speaker, and even the illiterate knew who he was, which is how he came to the attention of Henry VIII. He co-authored In Defense of the Seven Sacraments with Henry VIII in, it’s believed, much the same way Ted Sorenson “co-authored” Profiles in Courage with JFK) which was an early counter-argument to Lutheranism and the other growing heresies. King Henry VIII got the credit and the title Defender of the Faith from the Pope for the work and Thomas More was knighted, after which he kept rising- Henry would give him this office, that office (sheriff of here, judge of there, assistant treasurer here) many of which he held simultaneously. Each office came with an income and it’s unlikely More did much of the work himself- his deputies did- but it’s a way kings rewarded men who needed money without paying them themselves (much like George Wallace made many of his ‘kitchen cabinet’ buddies presidents and provosts of state colleges and junior colleges, which said buds rarely set foot on).

The big payday was in the 1520s (when the play opens) were Chancellor of Lancashire (big income), a Regent of Cambridge (income), Royal Subtreasurer (income). The king also gave him various land grants, so so he was now very wealthy as well as very famous and revered, very much a “person on the move”- if the 16th century had ever used the term “think tank” he would have been head of the kings. Unlike Wolsey he had a more respectable background and was also said to be very funny and lively in person (not arrogant as many of his intellect would be) and he was generally extremely well liked.

By the late 1520s he was the king’s “go to” man for anything that required deep thought or eloquence and of increasing importance. Henry seems to have thought of him genuinely as a friend as well as an advisor/subject/bureaucrat and respected him greatly for his intellect (which Henry seems to have had no real shortage of himself). Thomas was also popular with the commoners a great liaison to the common people due to his honesty and compassion (save for the occasional Protestant burning as the Reformation heated up and Thomas’s power increased- and admittedly he was fairly moderate compared to others).

So that’s where you find him at the opening of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: he’s the land’s most famous and most popular intellectual who has a huge income thanks to his titles (all of which he serves in “at the pleasure of the king”), has a huge new mansion for himself and his family (in real life he had a lot more kids than just Meg- also, Alice was his second wife and Meg’s stepmother, not that it’s important) and has friends that range from royalty to riff-raff. The king knows that Sir Thomas’s endorsement goes a long way in swaying opinion (“If Sir Thomas says the theology and logic and ethics of this are good, then they must be”) and of course is also wrestling with his conscience (on some level if not on the surface he knows damned good and well his marriage to Katherine is valid- the Pope himself approved it and the marriage to his brother had never been consummated), and he’ll give Thomas the moon for his support or express his displeasure if he withholds it.

Trivia: More was a direct ancestor of Robert E. Lee, which Lee was extremely proud of. He probably wouldn’t thought much of Lee’s Episcopalianism though (or the fact Lee would much rather have been an Anglican/Episcopal priest than a general).

Hopefully someone will come do Cromwell. The only thing I really know about him offhand other than what’s in the play is that he was a [however many great] uncle of Oliver Cromwell through his sister. (Oliver’s [however many great]grandmother actually kept her maiden name for herself and her children because of its prestige due to Thomas Cromwell- incidentally I think every man in the 16th century was named either Thomas, Edward, Richard or Henry.)

Ok, Thomas Cromwell. Thomas Cromwell was the son of nobody important (He might have made cloth, he might have owned an inn, he might have been a blacksmith, but we don’t know). Anyway, Cromwell goes to the continent to make his fortune as a mercenary. He comes to the conclusion that he’s better at paperwork than soldiering, and goes to work as a clerk for an Italian bank. While he’s there, he impresses an English cardinal and does some work for him on the side. After the cardinal dies, he goes back to England and goes to work as Cardinal Wolsey’s secretary.

He impresses Cardinal Wolsey (Cromwell impressed everyone) by being both smart and charming, and Wolsey comes to rely on him more and more, both for his advice, and also because Cromwell, who made a bunch of money in Europe, is generous in loaning Wolsey money. He becomes a lawyer and a member of Parliament, and Wolsey comes to rely on him more and more for sensitive stuff that really shouldn’t come out. At about this time, Cromwell also realizes there’s a lot of money to be made in government service, so he gets known as the man to bribe if you want access to Wolsey or to get things done. Cromwell gets treated almost like Cardinal Wolsey’s son.

Then Wolsey falls out of favor, and Cromwell has a choice to make. Should he stay loyal to Wolsey, the man who raised him from obscurity, gave him all of his titles and positions, trusted him, and was like a father to him, or should he leave Wolsey and thereby betray him at his hour of need?

After riding to court and giving the Duke of Norfolk all the dirt he had on Wolsey, he becomes a favorite of the King, who sends him back to Parliament where he serves as the king’s prime minister. Cromwell then comes up with the idea of legislation to solve the marriage problem. Why not pass a law, he says, saying that the King is the head of the English church? , and he manages to get that through parliament.So now the King can grant himself an annulment, marry Anne Bolyn, and everyone will be happy. Everyone, of course, except for Thomas More (well, and a whole lot of other people, too, actually, but no one ever wrote a play about them).

Cromwell would go on, after the events of the play, to be put in charge of the dissolution of the English monestaries, and pocket a lot of that money for himsef, and then become Earl of Essex. His fairly obvious corruption made him a lot of enemies, and so did his Lutheran sympathies, and his downfall would finally come when he would pressure the King into marrying Anne of Cleves, who Henry found hideous. This was the excuse his enemies needed, and they got him arrested for treason and he was beheaded.

The 1520 quote from whence the title (from Robert Whittingon, a writer, professor and colleague of More’s ):

If you’ve only seen the movie, you should read the play (in print and you can find it at most used book stores cheap also since it’s required in so many high school and college classes). As much as I like the movie, I really wish they’d left in the Common Man as he’s one of the great characters. He appears throughout the play as, simultaneously, the same character/different characters, similar to Che/Antonio Banderas’s character in Evita or the Emcee in the revamped version of Cabaret, representing the group Henry calls “the mass who follow me because they follow anything that moves” (i.e. those, like most of us, who are powerless to stop wars and taxes and policies and thus have to go with the flow, look out for themselves, keep their principles when they/we can and plasticize them when they can’t). Through the course of the play he’s one of More’s servants, a boatman, a juror, and other characters.

I won’t spoilerize, but skip what’s below if you don’t want to read about the ending of the play, which is slightly different from the movie.

Sir Tommy is beheaded of course and the executioner holds up his head and does the “Behold the Head of a Traitor!” line. (In the two stage versions I’ve seen this was once accomplished by Sir Thomas being obscured by a blowing flag on the stage [then sound then the executioner raising the head] and another time by a blackout and return to lights up with the executioner holding the head and a decapitated mannequin on the stage by the block.) Cromwell and Chapuys chuckle bitterly at the scaffold as they exit with a ‘the more fool he’ (no pun intended) snark at a fool who chose penury, imprisonment and beheading over a theoretical religious matter when he could much more easily have been as powerful as Wolsey. When the stage is empty save for the executioner he takes off his hood and it’s the Common Man of course, who gives the epilogue, which includes the “afterwards” part from the film (x,y, and z were beheaded and Richard Rich died in his bed"), but has more dialogue as well, the final bit of which is

Great moment.

I’d love to play the Common Man in a production of this. Though I’m guessing I’d be more likely to be cast as Henry as directors always give me authority figures. Plus, my most recent pic. :slight_smile:

Thanks folks, that does help put it all in context.


I always wondered, though, why Bolt omitted More’s last recorded words: “This, at least, has given the king no offense.” (Referring to his long beard, as he moved it out of the way of the headsman’s axe.)

I think a very interesting character is Richard Rich, the bright, desperately ambitious young scholar, who is corrupted with an ease that astonishes even himself. IRL, Rich was known for, in every political upheaval, switching sides just in time to join the winner. The Harvey Comics character based on him does not do him justice.