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122 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite Utopia, 3 Feb. 2005
This review is from: A Man For All Seasons [DVD] (DVD)
Films such as this are rare today; 'A Man for All Seasons' turns not on action sequences of battles past or present, nor on love affairs, or indeed political issues that have a burning relevance for today. It is not a comedy, nor a tragedy in the classic sense. In a word, it would seem to have little to recommend it -- however, it is one of the best film ever produced. Turning largely on the issue of personal integrity and the conflict of competing calls to faithfulness, this is a drama of the interior struggle of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, writ large across the political/religious landscape of Henry VIII's England.
The whole tone of the film is excellent. From the opening scenes of couriers dashing from Wolsey to More, backdrops of pre-Renaissance England fill the screen, from the magnificent but appropriate un-ornate manor houses and parliamentary scenes (the set of Westminster Hall, a building in which I once worked) to the costuming and music, period in style and instrumentation. The director Fred Zimmermann resisted the urge to provide orchestral music as a background; indeed, through much of the film, there is no music at all, as the drama itself carries the weight of the narrative and atmosphere. The cinematographer, Ted Moore, as well as the director received Academy Awards for their work.
This is an actor's film, the force of the drama being driven by their performances. Exceptional acting by John Hurt, Leo McKern, Nigel Davenport and Robert Shaw enhance lead actor Paul Scofield's Oscar-winning portrayal. Scofield presents the intellectual More as a character of supreme integrity (following Bolt's play perfectly), an integrity hard to maintain in the shifting sands of Henry VIII's drive to break with Rome to secure a divorce. More, as chancellor of England after Wolsey (portrayed in a slightly-more-than-cameo appearance by an effective but declining Orson Welles), was charged with maintaining both peace with the King and his faithfulness to the church, of which he was an acknowledged intellectual leader throughout Europe. In the end, the church won out -- as More said at his execution, 'I remain the King's good subject, but God's first.'
Hurt and McKern portray Richard Rich and Thomas Cromwell, schemers and social climbers of which royal courts are always full. Nigel Davenport as the friend who becomes an enemy, himself turned by the political tides, is also effective, but the best role beyond Scofield's is that Robert Shaw, who portrays the 'lion of England', Henry VIII, capricious and volatile, far too taken with his own sense of purpose and without many courageous enough to stand against him.
The roles of More's wife Alice (Wendy Hiller) and daughter Meg (Susannah York) are admirably played. Alice as the illiterate yet intelligent wife of More is concerned for the family's well-being; Meg as the educated daughter (More's experimental school practiced, generations ahead of its time, gender equality in education) almost steals the scene from Shaw at one point. Hiller's performance as More's companion up to the scene in the Tower is strongly portrayed, and she does not lose her character in the face of so many other powerful figures.
Rare in film-making today, the full force of the plot develops upon the device of Qui tacet consentit - silence implies consent. More relied on the legal idea that, so long as he did not speak out against the king, his silence implied consent and he was safe. However, as Cromwell (correctly) argued, More's silence was not meaningless, nor was it taken as consent by any who knew him. On this one point, More's integrity falters, for he was intelligent enough to know that the truth was different from the legal fiction; however, this was also the position he maintained regarding Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.
This is not a feel-good movie; indeed, the final narration makes one wonder rather at the idea of justice in the world. Yet it is a meaningful and stunning film, and one deserving of viewing by all.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 May 2010, 22:30:06 BST
I went to see this with my school back in 1966 when it was first released and believe me I wasn't looking forward to it. (more boring Shakespearean acting I thought) Well, I was awestuck with the whole production from acting, costumes, script, direction and cinematography. A special mention has to be made of Robert Bolt who originally wrote it as a play and later the screenplay - excellent cinema, the play is still being used in schools to-day, Paul Scofield's finest hour !

Posted on 12 Oct 2010, 02:00:07 BST
I. Buchan says:
Excellent and commendable review yes indeed this is a film and Drama of the Highest Quality throughout and one could nit-pick in the Historical sense-however that would be an injustice to this Most Excellent Drama. More's Silence is actually a SHOUT throughout all of the Land- and not the silence intended. i believe that I saw this wonderful film at the Odeon , Marble Arch and was most impressed back then. I do believe I shall purchase the DVD and enjoy all over again.

Posted on 3 Feb 2011, 08:40:32 GMT
Ken Raus says:
Superb revue,articulate,detailed and telling,yet still succinct.

Posted on 1 May 2011, 21:17:39 BST
A Man For All Seasons (Collector's Edition) [1966] [DVD]
Thank you very much, indeed, for your excellent review of this superb film. You have left almost nothing unsaid as to its excellence. Your final remark on the final voice-over narration making it clear that Richard Rich was the only one among the main figures involved who ended his life happily, sounded to me a fraction insufficient. For, to me, without that comment the film would have been incomplete, driving it home how the world was, has been, and is an unjust place where the worst are victorious, while the best perish easily without support from law, against More's vain wish, providence, or from fellow men. I thought this dismal reflection at the ending was in accord with the dire tone of enevitabilityl running throughout the film. By the way, would anyone tell me what those large Hs embroidered on the robes of Cromwell and Rich at the final court? Thank you in advance. Fumihiko

In reply to an earlier post on 2 May 2011, 03:57:08 BST
Last edited by the author on 2 May 2011, 03:57:38 BST
I. Buchan says:
The H stands for Henry the King

In reply to an earlier post on 2 May 2011, 04:01:18 BST
I. Buchan says:
The film was mighty despite many inaccuracies and More was complicit along with others in very bloody trials and executions - not actually the Saint he is made out to be - but certainly a Saint in the eyes of the Catholic Church

Posted on 27 Aug 2011, 12:29:34 BST
A very good review of an excellent film. I only slightly disagree on one point. Whilst it may not be a feel good movie in the normal sense, it is a brilliant creative work about the conflict between the law and what is just, or what is percieved to be just and right. That is why the film has a timeless appeal and is edifying, which can not be said of the vast majority of films. To feel that a film has been well worth watching to me qualifies as "feel good".

The most poignant scenes for me are the arguments More has with his daughter Meg, and with his friend, where he refuses to disregard the law, even when he knows the law is wrong. These scenes seem to me to highlight the central intellectual and moral heart of the film, which is the conflict between the law and true justice.

There is some echos of that conflict in the UK today, but the current problems in the UK have been highlighted by the Court's response to riots. Some of the sentences do seem disproportionate and suggest the courts are being influenced by the media and broader public opinion, rather than what is a reasonable sentence for the crime. Prison sentences handed out for writing on the internet do smack of a brutal censorship. The modern King is media consensus, it seems, which of course politicians will also tend to follow in the pursuit of votes. Yet this is also the main opinion of the public, so shy shouldn't it be taken into account? The answer is justice requires careful objectivity and reasonable assessment, which can not often be carried out in the media when sensationalism sells. Just because an opinion is widely held does not make it correct or just. I am not claiming to be an expert, although I work in the legal sector, and I am not saying that the context of the crimes should not be taken into account, but I do think that there does appear to have been an over reaction in some recent sentencing, particularly in magistrates courts.

I seem to have gone a bit off subject, but it does show how this film remains relevant and is so memorable. It is a while since I have seen it, so I may get the DVD.

As for the Historical accuracy of the film, I don't see that as relevant. It is more of a creative moral study than a Historical representation. Anyway, true Historical accuracy is impossible to achieve as much of History is filtered through often conflicting accounts and evidence.

Definitely a brilliant film that must be seen. Particularly any rioters.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Aug 2011, 02:14:11 BST
I. Buchan says:
ANDREW -QUOTE -'Just because an opinion is widely held does not make it correct or just.' -'true Historical accuracy is impossible to achieve as much of History is filtered through often conflicting accounts and evidence'. end quotes.
I agree and so many times in the last couple decades, I have maintained the same reasoning to many Modern Historians and ' self -styled Historians' Most of the present and future Historians I fear will continue on the same track even when confronted with factual evidence.

Posted on 17 Mar 2012, 17:15:13 GMT
T. S. C. says:
This is a really top-notch review of one of my favourite films. No, the film is not a pot-boiler or sensational or a Hollywood blockbuster, and yet it in its own way is a magnificent film that paints a story of a man, very much of his times, falling from grace, even when that fall is to a certain extent unjust. The music at the start has always captivated me incidentally, and the music throughout, especially when More is first taken to the tower is evocative and dare-I-say-it nostalgic somewhat.

In this film, I have perceived for a long time, that there is a simplicity in More, despite his intellectuality and achievements, that yearns for something beyond power and wealth. Whether this was true of the real More is probably open to debate. But the film certainly portrays a man somewhat out of his depth at court, yet also a man supremely confident and certain of his place, his religious beliefs and where he stands on these issues.

Of course, we know that poor old More is eventually dispatched for standing out against the king's wishes; such is the nature of life it seems. The king will have his way in all events.

So for me 'A Man For All Seasons' is a perfect film, notwithstanding the fact that some issues are sidelined and conveniently ignored; the film is a great film and stands as one of Britain's finest historical portrayals of those heady, revolutionary and dangerous times.

For a really in-depth account of Thomas More's life and times, you could do worse than take a look at Richard Marius' superb 'Thomas More' which in it's description is '...concerned with the man who lived, not the saint who died.' Couldn't have said it better myself really.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Apr 2014, 10:43:57 BST
I. Buchan, that's a good point. Thomas More was not a particularly pleasant individual, particularly to those who challenged the status quo of the day in religious matters. However, this film depicts More's opposition to Henry VIII's wish to rid himself of his queen, Katherine of Aragon, and replace her with Anne Boleyn and there is a reference to "heretics" when Will Roper has an argument with More concerning his daughter. Robert Bolt had a very clear bias regarding More, but I love this film for so many reasons - acting, cinematography and music.
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Kurt Messick

Location: London, SW1

Top Reviewer Ranking: 34,572