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Film Review: A Man for All Seasons

Updated on March 29, 2016


In 1966, Fred Zinnemann released A Man for All Seasons, based on the 1960 play of the same name by Robert Bolt. Starring Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport, John Hurt, Corin Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Yootha Joyce, Anthony Nicholls, John Nettleton, Eira Heath, Molly Urquhart, Paul Hardwick, Martin Boddey and Eric Mason, the film grossed $28.4 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, the film won the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Director, and Best Picture as well as the BAFTA Awards for Best Film from Any Source, Best British Film, Best Photography, Best Production Design, and Best Actor.


When King Henry VIII wants to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, his most trusted advisor, Sir Thomas More, refuses his support and considers it immoral and against the Catholic religion. As a result, the king decides to leave the church and found the Church of England, which More also hates and refuses his support. King Henry VIII is angry and is earnestly ready to begin the persecution of More.


A decent Best Picture winner, A Man for All Seasons is still a good and well-presented film that brings about an interesting historical narrative. The plot sees everything Sir Thomas More goes through in his renouncement of King Henry VIII’s activities surrounding his divorce and creation of the Church of England. However, the plot is more than a simple historical biopic. What it really shows is the tenacity of one man to hold on to the beliefs he holds to be true, even when all those around him are pressuring him to give in and recant in order to save his relationship with the king and keep his life. It’s not just a great story, but can also be an inspiring one, especially to those wrestling with continuing to stay true to themselves and what they believe.

That also speaks highly of Sir Thomas More as a character. Throughout the film, he’s seen as not giving into threats or promises regarding his position, even holding his ground when the king calls those who refer to Catherine as queen liars and traitors. Even in his trial, More realizes that there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose when it comes to matters of eternity, making it so he still refuses to betray his conscience, going so far as to commit treason. What this does is show that he sees his faith and trust in what he believes as the biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy and is unwilling to falter. What’s more is his reason for doing so is shown during the scene where he is put to death, stating that he dies first and foremost as a servant of God.

A stark opposite to More is Cromwell, who has his eyes set on greatness, making him an ambitious antagonist that eventually gets placed at the right hand of the king. He gets a very interesting establishing moment that shows his true loyalty lies only to himself when More is going to see Wolsey. He shows More in and then eavesdrops on the conversation in order to get information to move up in status. Interestingly, he seems to have this reputation as well, considering that More’s family is distressed to know that he’s Wolsey’s secretary as well as More’s reaction to his rise to his place at the king’s side. What’s more is he’s shown as not being well-liked either, as there’s only one person who can be said as liking the man.

When it comes to the technical aspect to the film, it very much earned its award for cinematography. It’s very apparent early on that the film is going to be one that’s well shot, with the first three scenes being beautifully done. There’s the great scene of Wolsey’s summoning of More, followed by a good shot of the runner heading down the hall and into a boat, which is seen in a shot where it’s placed wonderfully between a pair of statues. The scene at the trial has great composition as well, especially when More is seen from behind.

5 stars for A Man for All Seasons

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.


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