A Man for All Seasons (1966 film)

A Man for All Seasons (1966 film)

Infobox Film | name = A Man for All Seasons

caption = Original film poster by Howard Terpning
director = Fred Zinnemann
producer = Fred Zinnemann
writer = Robert Bolt
starring =Paul Scofield
Wendy Hiller
Leo McKern
Orson Welles
Robert Shaw
Susannah York
John Hurt
Nigel Davenport
music =Georges Delerue
cinematography = Ted Moore
editing = Ralph Kemplen
distributor = Columbia Pictures
released = December 12, 1966 (U.S. premiere)
runtime = 120 min
language = English
budget = $3,900,000 (estimated)
amg_id = 1:31129
imdb_id = 0060665

"A Man for All Seasons" is a 1966 film based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name about Sir Thomas More. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West End stage premiere, also took the role in the film. The film also stars Robert Shaw as Henry VIII, Orson Welles as Wolsey, John Hurt as Richard Rich, Nigel Davenport as the Duke of Norfolk and Wendy Hiller as More's second wife, Alice. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann who had previously directed such films as "High Noon" and "From Here to Eternity".


The title reflects 20th century agnostic playwright Robert Bolt’s portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience. As one who remains true to himself and his beliefs under all circumstances and at all times, despite external pressure or influence, More represents "a man for all seasons". Bolt borrowed the title from Robert Whittington, a contemporary of More, who in 1520 wrote of him::"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons." [ [http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/politics/pg0078.html A Man for all Seasons: an Historian's Demur ] ]


The plot is based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England, who refused to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the King's marriage and resigned rather than take an Oath of Supremacy declaring the King the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The King is Henry VIII of England and his wife is Catherine of Aragon, the first of an eventual six wives. Both the play and the film portray More as a man of principle, motivated by his devout Roman Catholic faith and envied by rivals such as Thomas Cromwell. He is also deeply loved by the common people and by his family.

The film opens with Cardinal Wolsey, played by Orson Welles, summoning More (Paul Scofield) to his palace at Hampton Court. Desiring his support in obtaining a divorce from the Pope so that the King can marry Anne Boleyn, Wolsey chastises More for being the only member of the Privy Council to argue against him. When More states that the Pope will never grant a divorce, he is scandalized by Wolsey's suggestion that they apply "pressure" to Church lands in order to force the issue. More responds,

"No, Your Grace, I'm not going to help you."
Wolsey indignantly suggests that if only More could see "facts flat on" without his "horrible moral squint", he "might have made a statesman." More responds,
"I think that when statesmen forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos."
Wolsey declares that until More can "see reason", they will remain enemies.

Returning by a River Thames ferry to his estate at Chelsea, More finds Richard Rich (John Hurt), a young acquaintance from Cambridge waiting by the dock for his return. Rich pleads with More for a position at Court, but More, citing the various corruptions there, advises him to become a teacher instead. Entering the house, More finds his daughter Meg (Susannah York) with a young Protestant named William Roper (Corin Redgrave). Roper announces his desire to marry Meg. More, however, a devout Catholic, announces that his answer is "no" as long as Roper remains a heretic. Roper angrily retorts that Martin Luther has proved to him that Roman Catholicism is "a heretic church." More declares,

"Now, listen, Will. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman. Now you're a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head's finished turning, your face is to the front again."

Shortly thereafter, Wolsey dies in disgrace (banished to a rural monastery), having failed to coerce a divorce from the Pope. King Henry (Robert Shaw, in the role which earned him an Academy Award Nomination) then appoints More as Lord Chancellor of England. Soon after, the King arrives by boat at Chelsea to inquire about his divorce. Sir Thomas, rather than admit that his conscience forbids him to play dirty to dissolve what he considers a valid marriage, unintentionally provokes the King into a raging tantrum, in earshot of his entourage and More's family. The King screams,

"I have no Queen! Catherine's not my wife! No priest can make her so! Those who say she is my wife are not only liars but traitors!"
King Henry then storms off in a huff, returning to his barge and ordering the oarmen to cast off. His fawning courtiers are left to run through the mud and into the river to catch up as the King laughs hysterically at their predicament.

Roper, having heard of More's predicament from Meg, reveals that his religious opinions have altered considerably. He declares that by attacking the Catholic Church, the King has become "the Devil's minister". A frightened More begs him to be more guarded as Rich arrives, pleading again for a position at Court. When More again refuses, Rich denounces More's steward as a spy for Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern), one of More's enemies at Court. As a humiliated Rich leaves, More's family pleads with him to have Rich arrested. More refuses, stating that Rich, while dangerous, has broken no law. Still seeking a position at Court, Rich enlists Cromwell's patronage and joins him in attempting to bring down More.

King Henry, tired of awaiting a divorce from the Vatican, declares himself "Supreme Head of the Church in England", requiring England's allegiance with the Holy See to be renounced. More quietly resigns his post as Chancellor rather than accept the new order. As he does so, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (Nigel Davenport), a close friend of More's, attempts to draw his opinions out as part of a friendly chat with no witnesses present. More, however, knows that the time for speaking openly of such matters is over. The Duke, believing that More is simply paranoid, tries to soothe his fears. He tells him,

"This isn't Spain, you know. This is England".

The King, however, is still not satisfied. He demands that More attend his "wedding" to Anne Boleyn. When More refuses, he is summoned again to Hampton Court, now occupied by Cromwell. When Cromwell interrogates him on his opinions, More refuses to answer, citing it as his right under English Law. Cromwell angrily declares that the King now views him as a traitor, but allows him to go.

As More returns home he is met by his daughter. Meg informs him that a new oath about the marriage is being circulated and that all must take it on pain of high treason. Unable to find any loopholes in the oath, More refuses to take it. He is then imprisoned in the Tower of London. Despite repeated threats from Cromwell, the more subtle tactics of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (Cyril Luckham), and the pleadings of his family, More remains steadfast in his refusal to take the oath. When he is finally brought to trial, he remains silent until after being convicted of treason on the perjured testimony of Richard Rich. Informed that Rich has been promoted to Attorney General for Wales as a reward, More wittily remarks

"Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to lose his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?"

Now having nothing left to lose, More angrily denounces the illegal nature of the King's actions, citing what he believes to be the Biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy over Christendom and further declaring that the immunity of the Church is guaranteed both in Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath. He then cries loud enough for the whole courtroom to hear,

"Nevertheless, it was not for the Supremacy you sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!"
As the spectators scream in protest, More is sentenced to death.

Later, outside the Tower of London, More declares,

"I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die His Majesty's good servant, but God's first."
More then makes the Sign of the Cross and kneels down before the executioner's axe. The axe is raised and brought down off screen with a sickening crack, and a man for all seasons is gone.

A narrator intones the epilogue.

"Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitor's Gate for a month. Then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it 'til her death. Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The Archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason but the King died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed."


Robert Bolt adapted the screenplay himself. The running commentary of The Common Man was deleted and the character was divided into the roles of the Thames boatman, More's steward, an innkeeper, the jailer from the Tower, the jury foreman and the executioner. The subplot involving the Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, was also excised. A few minor scenes were added to the play, for instance Wolsey's death, More's investiture as Chancellor, and the King's wedding to Anne Boleyn, in order to cover narrative gaps left by the exclusion of the Common Man.

For obvious reasons, the Brechtian staging of the final courtroom scene (which depicted the Jury as consisting of the Common Man and several sticks bearing the hats of the various characters he has played) is changed to a more realistic setting. Also, while Norfolk was the judge in the play's version of the trial, the character of the Chief Justice (Jack Gwillim) was created for the film. Norfolk is still present, but plays little role in the proceedings.


The producers initially feared that Paul Scofield was not a big enough name to draw in audiences, so the producers approached Richard Burton, who turned the part down. Laurence Olivier was also considered, but Fred Zinnemann demanded that Scofield play the part. Alec Guinness was the studio's first choice to play Cardinal Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole was the first choice to play Henry VIII—Richard Harris was also considered. Bolt wanted film director John Huston to play Norfolk, although he refused. Vanessa Redgrave was originally to have played Margaret, but she turned the part down because of a theatre commitment. She agreed to a cameo as Anne Boleyn on the condition that she not be billed in the part or mentioned in the previews.

To keep the budget at under $2 million, the actors all took salary cuts. Only Paul Scofield, Susannah York and Orson Welles were paid salaries exceeding ƒ10,000. For his first major film role as Rich, John Hurt was paid ƒ3,000. Vanessa Redgrave appeared in her non-speaking role as Anne Boleyn simply for the fun of it and refused to accept any money.

Leo McKern had played the Common Man in the original West End production of the show, but had been shifted to Cromwell for the Broadway production. He and Scofield are the only members of the cast to appear in the both the stage and screen versions of the story. Vanessa Redgrave would however appear as Alice in the 1988 remake.

Awards and acclaim

The film was a box-office success, making $20,000,000 in Great Britain and the U.S. alone. Scofield's performance was particularly acclaimed.

Scofield won the Best Actor Oscar. The film also won Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, cinematography, costume design, Best Director, and Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Robert Shaw, and Best Supporting Actress for Wendy Hiller. The film also helped launch the career of the then-unknown John Hurt.

The film won the BAFTA Awards for Best Film from any Source and Best British Film.

The film is number 43 on BFI (the British Film Institute) list of the top 100 British films.

Differences between 1966 film and 1988 television remake

Playwright Bolt's deletions for the 1966 film version were restored for the 1988 television film, directed and protagonised by Charlton Heston. A restored scene shows Margaret's tearful, grief at More's death, whereas the 1966 film ends immediately after the executioner lets drop the axe, followed by closing narration.



* [http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/m/man-for-all-seasons-script.html Film Script]

ee also

*"A Man for All Seasons" - the original play

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