A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Perhaps the most underrated and intelligent of all the Best Picture winners, "A Man for All Seasons" exemplifies that no matter what setting you drop your viewers in, there is power to a film if you have a great script and a good cast. Fred Zinnemann (an Academy favorite) proves here that there is no need for any fuss except that of the spoken word.
Robert Bolt's script, based on his stage play, is in a class of its own for how it presents its material without preaching or condemning. Because the crux of the movie pivots on the Christian/Catholic philosophy and ethics of Thomas Moore, you could have swung several ways. Bolt makes the right decision, and shows up Moore as a zealous believer, but never thinks of his belief as ludicrous and never damns those who don't believe...it's quite refined, much like the picture.
The movie beings as Sir Thomas Moore (Paul Scofield) is summoned to Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles). The Cardinal has been placed between a rock and a hard king. Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) wants a divorce from his first wife Catherine, but the church is unwilling to give it to him. This is a huge problem because as bishops and cardinals, these men are both servants of the state and the church. They must obey God's laws as well as the king's word...so when the two differ, who do you chose to side with? Eternally, it should be God—which is how Moore views it—but this God only works so many miracles and martyrdom is an almost certainty if they do chose to side with the divine law instead of the sovereign one.
The Cardinal wants to know what will happen to the king's dispute with the church once he has passed on and has called upon Thomas Moore to see if he is the man of integrity that people say he is. As a lawyer and judge, Moore doesn't accept any bribes and provides the fairest of fair trials to those who come before him. He exemplifies what it means to live by your beliefs, and that, even if you don't agree with his religion, is universal.
After the Cardinal passes away Thomas Moore is elected as chancellor and paid a visit by Henry VIII. The king is ready to separate himself from the Catholic church, to start his own (this is where the Church of England came from) and he hopes that his threats and large talk will frighten Moore into making his move for divorce unanimous, but he's unsuccessful at that.
Going against his whole family including his wife Alice (Wendy Hiller) and his daughter Margaret (Susannah York), Thomas Moore campaigns for righteousness even in the face of such great adversity, and it is almost no time before Henry VIII strips the title from the man. Now in poverty and social disgrace, things can't seem to get any worse for Thomas Moore and his family, but he still refuses to cave in to peer pressure and when the question of oaths begins, Moore is a steadfast as always.
"A Man for All Seasons" is one of the most measured of the Academy's honored, maybe up there with "The King's Speech". For all it's posh and vibrant recreations of the 16th century, the most notable of these being the costumes, "A Man For All Seasons" actually resembles the modern day thriller more than anything else; and for that it is exciting.
A story that shouldn't be interesting and a grandeur that should be even less so, "A Man for All Season" is a movie designed for the drama-crazed snob; but at that, it is king.
The movie has just the right speed, just the right drama, and just the right amount of betrayal.
Paul Scofield here is also a great reason to watch the movie, because it's his performance that remains in your mind after the movie ends. It's also a movie that exemplifies the power of words and the theater quality it has makes you long to speak those magnificent monologues for yourself. Scofield is a revelation, one of the best performances committed to film, it's wonderfully restrained and filled with sincerity.
"A Man for All Seasons" is just great, but not for everyone.
Posted by Micah Jones