A Man for All Seasons
Steely with conviction, luminous with wisdom and wit, Fred Zinnemann's impeccable film of Robert Bolt's play about the life of Thomas More explores what defines a man, or what is left to a man who has no defining center that cannot be bought or coerced. Successful, urbane, gregarious, ridiculously talented and accomplished, Thomas More was the toast of his times. Then, at the height of his career, this splendidly well-adjusted man abruptly withdrew from public life, gave up his household and living, and eventually submitted to arrest and imprisonment, and finally execution. All this, because he would not give approval under oath to King Henry VIII's claimed title "Supreme Head of the Church in England," nor accept Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn after divorcing Catherine.
Such costly conviction is foreign to our post-Clinton era, when achieving or maintaining power or fame is its own justification, and the capacity for reinventing oneself is a basic survival skill. When a brilliant and charismatic lawyer becomes his country's highest ranking government official, and is then accused and tried for a crime, we don't expect him to be so concerned about perjury that he chooses to sacrifice his career, income, holdings, freedom, and eventually his life.
Paul Scofield, who originated the role of More on the stage, gives an effortlessly layered performance as the man whose determined silence spoke more forcefully than words, until he spoke even more forcefully by breaking it. The screenplay, adapted by Bolt, is fiercely intelligent, resonant with verbal beauty and grace, often relying on More's own words. "For the rest," Bolt has noted, "my concern was to match with these as best I could so that the theft should not be too obvious." He succeeded.