Review: A Man for All Seasons
Blu-ray & DVD: A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), Henry the VIII’s right hand man and Chancellor, is forced into a difficult position at the peak of his powers to obey Henry (Robert Shaw) and facilitate a divorce for his King from Katherine the Queen, who was too old to produce a male heir for him, and allow him to marry Anne Boleyn. Or to stay true to his Catholic beliefs of marriage being indissoluble.
Torn between his religious conscience and duty to the King and crown, Sir Thomas chooses to say nothing, fuelling the rage of the King and court.
What unfolds is a battle of wills packed with palace intrigue,
Written for the screen (adapted from his own play of the same name) by playwright and screenwriter Robert Bolt (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) A Man for All Seasons is a seminal film for me. I first saw this (probably on a rainy Sunday afternoon) as a kid, and that along with a book my dad bought me from Chester Cathedral ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’, lead me up a path of Tudor History that continues to this day.
Despite being made in 1966, A Man for All Seasons holds up really well as ‘history’ films go. Surprisingly accurate (unlike more modern releases such as Shekar Kapur’s Elizabeth) with sumptuous costumes and set design, the story zings off the screen. Bolt insisted on the star of his stage play move over to take the part in the film, and thankfully Paul Schofield plays the part of More with stoicism and great sensitivity. Here was a man who was profoundly religious and was ridiculed somewhat for giving his daughter Margaret (Susannah Yorke) the same education as his son. He portrays this all-powerful man with sensitivity and as someone who genuinely believes that the King is wrong to abandon his wife, that God is more powerful and God’s law the highest law, a difficult thing to get your head around or portray in this secular age.
This film may not appeal to a lot of people who will look at it and think ‘An old film about boring history’ which couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is a film of intrigue and political juggling to rival any modern thriller, it also boasts a cast of legends that includes Orson Welles, John Hurt, Nigel Davenport and Wendy Hiller, who gives a wonderful performance as More’s feisty wife Alice.
Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Henry VIII is a benchmark in how to play it ruthless yet robustly sexy, conniving and attempting to manipulate More into doing his bidding, when in fact he didn’t NEED More’s permission as he was the King, and this is what comes across in the film, that Henry needed More’s blessing, while More, conscious of the trouble he could be in, remained silent (however, he did write several books that eventually lead to his execution).
The film looks beautiful and the extras are great. I did think the audio commentary by film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Lem Dobbs was okay, but would have preferred to hear Alison Weir or Susannah Lipscomb’s take on it. Though Weir does feature in the documentary about More.
- Gorgeous High-definition presentation
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Audio commentary by film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Lem Dobbs
- A new video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
- The Life of Saint Thomas More – featurette
- Original theatrical trailer
- Masters of Cinema exclusive trailer
- A BOOKLET featuring new writing on the film