A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More falls foul of King Henry VIII in Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Robert Bolt’s stage success.

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Introduction

 

“Zinnemann has done a fine job of putting upon the screen Robert Bolt’s play, and presents us with an awesome view of a sturdy conscience and a steadfast heart.”
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, 1966

The archetype of probity and principle, Thomas More (Paul Scofield) is the only courtier who refuses to abet the scheming of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. The drama springs from the consequences of More’s “moral squint” (in the memorable words of Orson Welles’s bilious Cardinal Wolsey), as unscrupulous enemies plot his downfall.

The film’s wordiness and stagy direction betray its theatrical origins, making it an atypical project for director Fred Zinnemann, better remembered for the likes of High Noon (1952) and The Day of the Jackal (1973). Paul Scofield gives a career-defining performance (he won an Oscar for Best Actor, one of six awarded to the film), reprising the role from the play’s West End and Broadway runs.

Different takes on Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn can be found in Anne of a Thousand Days (1969) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).

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