A Man for All Seasons is a movie for all seasons. It recounts the reign of King Henry VIII from the perspective of noble devout Catholic lawyer Sir Thomas More. Since Hollywood loves British films, historical epics, courtroom drama, and religious commentary, A Man for All Seasons won big at the Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, Best Director Fred Zinnemann, Best Actor Paul Scofield, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design. A Man for All Seasons was the last color winner of the latter two categories, because black & white was all but consumed by technicolor in the late 60’s. Fortunately I saw the last black & white winner (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) as well.
A Man of All Seasons is beautifully shot with elaborate costumes that bring history to life. Though he wasn’t a big name in film, Scofield reprises the role of Thomas More from the earlier stage production. More denies Henry VIII when he seeks divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon and further when the king declares himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Luckily the Simpsons episode “Margical History Tour” made the story easier to follow. All I know is that Henry VIII was a pompous jerk who desperately wanted a son and made More’s life difficult when he refused him. An Oscar nominated Robert Shaw is perfectly boisterous as Henry VIII, but it’s Scofield who perfectly conveys More’s respectability, strong belief, and quiet determination.
Wendy Hiller was also nominated as his wife Alice More who’s forced to sit idly by as her husband suffers. After Tom Jones, Susannah York played Margaret More, another nobleman’s daughter. A subplot between Margaret and her Lutheran suitor William Roper further shows More’s conviction. Corin Redgrave appears along with his more famous sister Vanessa Redgrave who cameos as Anne Boleyn. A very young John Hurt plays Richard Rich, a young servant who betrays More. Orson Welles finally appears in a Best Picture winner in a brief performance as the former Lord Chancellor. More is mostly opposed by his former friend the Duke of Norfolk and the more hostile Thomas Cromwell played by Nigel Davenport and Leo McKern respectively. They’re threatened by his silence, but More makes his voice known in a stirring trial that costs him his life. A Man for All Seasons is a remarkable exercise in good conscience.