A Man for All Seasons (1966 film)

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A Man for All Seasons
A Man for All Seasons (1966 movie poster).gif
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Fred Zinnemann
Written by Robert Bolt
Starring Paul Scofield
Wendy Hiller
Leo McKern
Orson Welles
Robert Shaw
Susannah York
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Ted Moore
Editing by Ralph Kemplen
Studio Highland Films
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 1966 (1966)
Running time 120 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $28,350,000

A Man for All Seasons is a 1966 British film based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name about Sir Thomas More. It was released on 12 December 1966. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West End stage premiere, also took the role in the film. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann, who had previously directed such films as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

The film ranked number 43 on the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films. In 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican listed it among the greatest religious movies of all time.[1]


The title reflects playwright Bolt's portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience and as remaining true to his principles and religion under all circumstances and at all times. Bolt borrowed the title from Robert Whittington, a contemporary of More, who in 1520 wrote of him:

More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.[2][3]


Sir Thomas More was the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul King Henry VIII of England's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and resigned rather than take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. Both the play and the film portray More as a tragic hero, motivated by his devout Roman Catholic faith and envied by rivals, such as Thomas Cromwell. He is also deeply loved by his family and respected by the common people. The film's story is set between 1529 and 1535, at the high point of the reign of Henry VIII of England.


The film opens with Cardinal Wolsey summoning Sir Thomas More to his palace at Hampton Court. Desiring his support in obtaining a divorce from the Pope so that Henry VIII of England can marry Anne Boleyn, Wolsey chastises More for being the only member of the Privy Council to argue against him. When More states that the Pope will never grant a divorce, he is scandalised by Wolsey's suggestion that they apply "pressure" to force the issue. More refuses to support continued efforts to secure an annulment for Henry VIII from the Pope as legal and religious options having been exhausted, provide no grounds for the Pope to issue an annulment.

Returning by a River Thames ferry to his home at Chelsea, More finds Richard Rich, a young acquaintance from Cambridge waiting by the dock for his return. An ambitious young man, who is drawn to the allure of power, Rich pleads with More for a position at Court, but More, citing the various corruptions there, advises him to become a teacher instead. Entering the house, More finds his daughter Meg with a young Lutheran named William Roper, who announces his desire to marry her. More, a devout Catholic, announces that his answer is "no" as long as Roper remains a heretic.

Shortly afterwards, Wolsey dies, banished from Court in disgrace for failing to coerce a divorce from the Pope. King Henry appoints More as Lord Chancellor of England. Soon after, the King makes an "impromptu" visit by barge at More's home in Chelsea to inquire about his divorce. Sir Thomas, not wishing to admit that his conscience forbids him to dissolve what he considers a valid marriage, remains unmoved as the King alternates between thinly veiled threats and promises of unbounded Royal favour. When More finally refers to Catherine as "the Queen," the King explodes into a raging tantrum. Storming off in a huff, King Henry returns to his barge and orders the oarsmen to cast off. At the embankment, Rich is approached by Thomas Cromwell, a member of Henry's court and political adversary of More. Cromwell subtly inquires whether Rich has information that could damage More's reputation, in exchange for a position at Court.

Roper, learning of More's quarrel with the King, reveals that his religious opinions have altered considerably. He declares that by attacking the Catholic Church, the King has become "the Devil's minister." An alarmed More admonishes him to be more guarded as Rich arrives, pleading again for a position at Court. When More again refuses, Rich denounces More's steward as a spy for Cromwell. More and his family realise that Rich is being manipulated by Cromwell to spy on him.

Still seeking a position at Court, Rich enlists Cromwell's patronage and joins him in attempting to bring down More. Henry, tired of awaiting for an annulment from the Vatican, redefines the Catholic Church in England by declaring himself "Supreme Head of the Church in England." He demands that both the bishops and Parliament renounce all allegiance to the Holy See. More quietly resigns his post as Chancellor rather than accept the new order. As he does so, his close friend, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, attempts to draw his opinions out as part of a friendly chat with no witnesses present. More, however, knows that the time for speaking openly of such matters is over. It is suggested that More attend his wedding to Anne Boleyn. More declines and is summoned again to Hampton Court, now occupied by Cromwell. More is interrogated on his opinions but refuses to answer, citing it as his right under English Law. Cromwell angrily declares that the King now views him as a traitor.

More returns home and is met by his daughter. Meg informs him that a new oath about the marriage is being circulated and that all must take it on pain of high treason. Initially, More says he would be willing to take the oath, provided it does not conflict with his principles. One issue for More is that the King cannot declare himself to be the head of the Catholic Church as the head of the Catholic Church is the Pope. However, an expert in the law, More knows that if he does not state why he is opposed to taking the oath, he cannot be considered a traitor to the King; More refuses to take the oath and is imprisoned in the Tower of London regardless.

In spite of the bullying tactics of Cromwell, the subtle manipulation of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the pleadings of both Norfolk and his family, More remains steadfast in his refusal to take the oath. When he is finally brought to trial, he remains silent until after being convicted of treason on the perjured testimony of Richard Rich; Rich had been appointed Attorney General for Wales as a reward. Now having nothing left to lose, More angrily denounces the illegal nature of the King's actions, citing the Biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy over Christendom. He further declares that the Church's immunity to State interference is guaranteed both in Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath. More is condemned to death as the trial's spectators scream in protest. At his execution, he pardons the executioner, and says that he dies "the king's good servant, but God's first."

A narrator intones the epilogue.

Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitor's Gate for a month. Then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it 'til her death. Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The Archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason but the King died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed.


Robert Bolt adapted the screenplay himself. The running commentary of The Common Man was deleted and the character was divided into the roles of the Thames boatman, More's steward, an innkeeper, the jailer from the Tower, the jury foreman and the executioner. The subplot involving the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, was also excised. A few minor scenes were added to the play, for instance Wolsey's death, More's investiture as Chancellor, and the King's wedding to Anne Boleyn, to cover narrative gaps left by the exclusion of the Common Man.

For obvious reasons, the Brechtian staging of the final courtroom scene (which depicted the Jury as consisting of the Common Man and several sticks bearing the hats of the various characters he has played) is changed to a more realistic setting. Also, while the Duke of Norfolk was the judge both historically and in the play's depiction of the trial, the character of the Chief Justice (Jack Gwillim) was created for the film. Norfolk is still present, but plays little role in the proceedings.



The producers initially feared that Paul Scofield was not a big enough name to draw in audiences, so the producers approached Richard Burton, who turned down the part. Laurence Olivier was also considered, but Fred Zinnemann demanded that Scofield be cast. He played More both in London's West End and on Broadway, the latter appearance led to a Tony Award.

Alec Guinness was the studio's first choice to play Cardinal Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole was the first choice to play Henry VIII. Richard Harris was also considered. Bolt wanted film director John Huston to play Norfolk, but he refused. Vanessa Redgrave was originally to have played Margaret, but she had a theatre commitment. She agreed to a cameo as Anne Boleyn on the condition that she not be billed in the part or mentioned in the previews.

To keep the budget at under $2 million, the actors all took salary cuts. Only Scofield, York and Welles were paid salaries exceeding £10,000. For playing Rich, his first major film role, John Hurt was paid £3,000. Vanessa Redgrave appeared simply for the fun of it and refused to accept any money.

Leo McKern had played the Common Man in the original West End production of the show, but had been shifted to Cromwell for the Broadway production. He and Scofield are the only members of the cast to appear in both the stage and screen versions of the story. Vanessa Redgrave did appear as Alice in a 1988 remake.

Awards and acclaim[edit]

The film was a box office success, making $28,350,000 in the US alone,[4] making it the fifth highest grossing film of 1966. Scofield's performance was particularly acclaimed and he won the Best Actor Oscar. The film dominated the 39th Academy Awards and won additionally for Best Adapted Screenplay, cinematography, costume design, Best Director, and Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Shaw and Best Supporting Actress for Hiller. The film also helped launch the career of the then-unknown Hurt. The film's win for Best Picture Oscar defeated another heavy nominee Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which earned 13 nominations, almost twice the winning picture's total nominations alone. For Zinnemann, he won a second time as Best Director and earned a second Best Picture award after his winning both awards for the first time for From Here to Eternity.

The film won five BAFTA Awards for Best Film from any Source, Best British Film, Best Photography (Ted Moore), Best Production design (John Box) and Best Actor (Scofield). The film was also entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival where Scofield won the award for Best Actor.[5]

It has received positive reviews from modern film critics, with an 86% approval rating in review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and the site's consensus being: "Solid cinematography and enjoyable performances from Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw add a spark to this deliberately paced adaptation of the Robert Bolt play."[6] It's also ranked number 43 on the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Marking Centennial of Cinema, Vatican Names 45 Best Films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013
  2. ^ Whittinton, R. in The Vulgaria of John Stonbridge and the Vulgaria of Robert Whittinton, ed Beatrice White, Kraus Reprint, 1971, at Google Books. Accessed 10 March 2012.
  3. ^ Cited by O'Connell, M. in A Man for all Seasons: an Historian's Demur from Catholic Dossier 8 No. 2 (March–April 2002), pp. 16–19, at Catholic Education Resource Center (Canada and U.S.A.)
  4. ^ Box Office Information for A Man For All Seasons. The Numbers. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  5. ^ "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  6. ^ A Man for All Seasons. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 10 August 2012.

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