A Man for All Seasons

1966

Action / Biography / Drama / History

A Man for All Seasons (1966) download yts

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Cast

John Hurt as Rich
Vanessa Redgrave as Anne Boleyn
Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey
Robert Shaw as Henry VIII
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Bill Slocum 8 / 10

What Profit In Selling One's Soul?

Fred Zinnemann's one of our great forgotten directors, amazing considering that he was nominated for eight directing Oscars in four decades, winning two. Today's critics and auteurs don't champion him; you won't read much about him in "Entertainment Weekly." For Zinnemann, the script was the thing, what he worked from, and his greatest genius may have been in choosing the right scripts and knowing how to do them justice.

"From Here To Eternity" may well be Zinnemann at his highest tide, though IMDb voters seem to prefer "High Noon." Then there's "A Man For All Seasons," the film of the year in 1966, though its hard to imagine a film that represents the ethos of the 1960s less. "A Man For All Seasons" presents us with an unfashionable character who refuses to surrender his conscience to the dictates of king and countrymen, resolute instead in his devotion to God and Roman Catholic Church.

"When statesmen lead their country without their conscience to guide them, it is short road to chaos," Thomas More tells his nominal boss, Cardinal Wolsey, when the latter unsuccessfully presses him to give his blind assent to King Henry VIII's request for a convenient divorce. Perhaps out of pique, Wolsey makes sure More inherits his office of Counselor of the Realm, where More's sterling convictions are really put to the test.

More is a marvel of subtleties, tensile steel covered in a velvet glove, a mild-mannered lion trying at every turn to do well even though his political savvy knows how dangerous that can be. As a lawyer, More knows the angles, yet he is no sharpie. He respects the law too much for that. Rather, he sees in law the only hope for man's goodness in a fallen world. "I'd give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety's sake," he explains.

Paul Scofield plays More in such a way as to make us not only admire him but identify with him, and come to value both his humanness and his spirituality. His tired eyes, the way he gently rebuffs would-be bribers around Hampton Court, his genuine professions of loyalty to Henry even as he disagrees with the matter of his divorce, all speak to one of those great gifts of movies, which is the ability to create a character so well-rounded and illuminating in his window on the human condition we find him more haunting company than the real people we meet in life. It's a gift the movies seldom actually deliver on, so when someone like Scofield makes it happen, it is a object of gratitude as much as admiration.

The script, adapted by Robert Bolt from his stage play, is very literate and careful to explain the facts of More's dilemma. It moves too slowly and opaquely at times to qualify "A Man For All Seasons" as a true classic, that and a supporting cast full of one-note performances, though some are quite good (a few, however, are notably flat.) I especially liked Robert Shaw as a young and thin Henry VIII, full of vigor yet also a childish temperament and inconsistent mind. He demands More not oppose his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then decides he must have either More's outright assent or else his head. There's no bargaining with such a man. Perhaps More was better off standing on his principals as he did than climbing into bed with homicidal Henry. Just ask Anne.

Zinnemann presents some interesting visual images in "A Man For All Seasons," letting the period detail inform the story without overwhelming it. Several times, such as during the opening credits, inside More's cell at the Tower of London, and during More's trial, the camera shoots through narrow openings surrounded by high stone walls, a reminder not only of More's own trapped situation but the human condition. Aspirations of divinity may be unfashionable, even dangerous to one's health, but they present mankind with its one hope for overcoming its base nature, the dead-end character of temporality. "A Man For All Seasons" is a rallying cry for just such an approach to life, and remains undeniably effective in its artful, artless way.

Reviewed by alynsrumbold 9 / 10

"This silence of his is bellowing...."

One of the greatest cinematic studies of the nature of personal integrity, I sometimes think that this film is in danger of being forgotten -- and it shouldn't be. One wonders at the degree of corruption in More's time that he should have been so highly regarded for his honesty -- and how he might have been regarded today.

What Robert Bolt and Fred Zinnemann had wrought is absolutely brought to glorious life by the incomparable characterization of Sir Thomas More by the chronically underrated Paul Scofield. Bringing superb support to the role are Nigel Davenport as More's close friend Norfolk, who is caught between the rock of his respect and concern for More and the hard place of his duty to (and fear of) Henry VIII; Leo McKern as the jovially sinister Thomas Cromwell, whose verbal jousts with More are virtual poetry from Bolt's pen; John Hurt as More's fair-weather friend Richard Rich; Dame Wendy Hiller as More's devoted but frustrated and misunderstanding wife; and the elegant Susannah York as his equally devoted and strong-minded daughter. Two stand-out performances in relatively small but vital roles: Orson Welles, magnetic as the shrewdly pragmatic Cardinal Wolsey; and Robert Shaw, whose energetic portrayal of a young Henry VIII (before his corpulent days!) dominates the screen the two times he's on it.

As with "The Lion in Winter," the remarkable scriptwriting is the driving force behind the story, but Scofield's dignified, restrained, but at the same time quietly forceful delivery are what give the writing its power. The great quotes of the film ("Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the entire world...but for Wales?" "When you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?" etc.) are conveyed with either enormous gravity or poignancy by nothing more than the tone of Scofield's voice.

I think that the dilemma at the heart of the tale and how men of power came to grips with it is artfully summed up in the dying words of Wolsey and, of course, More. Wolsey regrets he did not serve God as well as he served his king. More, on the other hand, dies as "His majesty's good servant...but God's first." Whether criticized or praised as a morality play, it's wonderful to at least HAVE an uncompromising morality play to watch from time to time -- especially one so well crafted.

Reviewed by perfectbond 10 / 10

One of the most intelligent and moving films ever

A Man For All Seasons is an erudite examination of the old Biblical maxim: a man cannot serve two masters. Sir Thomas More (poignantly portrayed by Paul Scofield) struggles to be true to both his faith and his monarch (the lusty and hearty King Henry VIII superbly played by Robert Shaw). I think it is difficult for citizens in our present secular society to truly understand just how central a role religion played in a man's life during the period of the film; it was an age of faith when Christianity exerted the most powerful of influences on one's thinking. On a side note, the American Republic wisely sought a nation that "divided church and state." However, the fine distinction remains that it would be a state informed by faith but not run by the church. The aforementioned exemplary performances by the leads are backed by excellent supporting turns, especially from Orson Welles as the less than saintly Cardinal Wolsey and the eternally ebullient Susannah York as Sir Thomas's daughter Margaret. This is a true masterpiece that richly deserves all the accolades and plaudits it has received.

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