(a “nonhistory and nonintellectual” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
Let me just start off by saying I do NOT like history and I am NOT an intellectual. I don’t know what it is about history that makes me just want to snore. I’m intelligent, for the most part, but sometimes intellectualism can feel very inauthentic to me and take away from what I like to call “heart work.” I like to approach what I create from a place of deeper human and spiritual truths, a place where it’s not mind over matter but rather heart over matter, and a place where if history is to repeat itself, it is to repeat itself for the present….for the now. This is where I plan to go with this “nonhistory and nonintellectual” film review of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966).
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, a film based off of Robert Bolt’s play of the same name, received the Academy Award for Best Picture and also won numerous other awards including Paul Scofield for Best Actor and, given this was a period piece, multiple Oscar wins in the costume and art direction categories. The biographical film details the life of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England, at a time when he refused to sign a letter to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine. This also led to More’s refusal to take an oath of supremacy to declare Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. Why did More refuse to do these things? Simple. More was a man of conviction, a man of the Bible, and a man who stood by what aligned with this conviction and the Bible. He would not sway one inch if anything he said or did contradicted the Bible, not one inch if Savior Jesus Christ wouldn’t say or do the same thing, and not one inch to rest on his laurels, for More had no laurels unless they were aligned with God and Jesus. More saw good and decency in all and never expressed an unkind word. When he did express words, boy did he ever express them with conviction! But these words were never more than were necessary and maybe that is how More lived up to his name, i.e., More never spoke “more” words than what were just enough. But words aside, it was More’s “silence” that led to his beheading. I could go on and on about how “silence” is played out (and played, for the most part, quietly) in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, but I cannot be silent about this film being incredibly scrumptious in look while at the same time rich in emotions. It’s a marvel of cinema as we watch the man More never marvel himself in any and all seasons. Ironically, this man More is exactly the man we need right now in the season we are in. This is where history can repeat itself. We can bring a kind man of conviction from history into the present, and Sir Thomas More is exactly the kind of man we need to bring into the present….the now!
I got introduced to British actor Paul Scofield when I saw him in a theatre production of Edward Albee’s A DELICATE BALANCE. In this film adaptation of the play, Scofield as Tobias was a force to be reckoned with. Going toe to toe with actress Katherine Hepburn on screen is not an easy feat for any actor, but Scofield did go toe to toe with Hepburn (in fact, stepped on her toes more than once). Scofield commands your attention when he is on screen. It was only after much research that I discovered Paul Scofield was quite famous in England for his roles in Shakespearean plays. No surprise here, as those trained in the theatre and especially trained in Shakespeare practically break the film camera with their intensity. It might be because they have to be “big” on stage that this same “bigness” leaves the film camera helpless to contain their energy. I recently saw Paul Scofield again in Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE, another play turned into a film, and Scofield stole every scene he was in. There are some actors who when they act, the rest of the cast, not to discredit their talents, become “furniture.” Scofield is an actor who when he is on screen (I would have killed to see him onstage), he commands your attention and you feel downright guilty if you want to look at the other actors or dare turn away from Scofield. All this to say that Paul Scofield’s performance as Sir Thomas More in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is captivating, commanding, and convincing. He embodies More with a calm control, and what I noticed in Scofield’s characterization is that when anyone addresses him in the film, he does a full 180-degree turn to face them. Because Scofield adds this demonstrative touch to More, all the characters in this film who call on him get his demonstrative attention. It’s kind of like that someone who makes you feel you are the most important person on the planet when you are in their presence. This touch and attention is what Scofield brought to Sir Thomas More in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.
The rest of the cast of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, the direction, the music, all of it is sheer brilliance. And just to tell you how brilliant this film is, another Edward Albee play turned into a film, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, was nominated for Best Picture the same year as A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and Richard Burton as George in the same Best Actor category as Paul Scofield. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is #6 on my all-time favorite film list. I shudder to think if I would have been on the Oscar Voting Committee that year. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? where one is the Best Picture winner? I would have been, “Sorry, dudes. I’m playing the ‘More card.’ I will remain silent and not sign any oath to choose one of these films over the other!” And don’t get me started on having to choose the Best Actor of 1966: Richard Burton in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? or Paul Scofield in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS? But if I’m being honest, I would have chosen Paul Scofield. Scofield is THAT amazing! As a side note, maybe that’s why the Oscars changed the announcement of wins from “and the winner is….” to “and the Oscar goes to….” It really is so ego-driven to choose one film over another or one performance over another; they are ALL winners!
Well, that’s my “nonhistory and nonintellectual” film review of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. If I got you to want to watch the film for history’s sake, I failed. If I got you to want to watch the film for intellectual’s sake, I failed, But if I got you to want to watch A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS because of Sir Thomas More’s moral and Biblical conviction in the face of adversaries and adversity, something and someone so needed now, or if I got you to want to watch the film because of Paul Scofield’s not-to-be-missed Oscar-winning performance as Sir Thomas More, then I have garnered a success in writing this film review!