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A Man for All Seasons is a 1966 film based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name about Sir Thomas More. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West Endmarker 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 and Best Actor.


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:


Sir Thomas More was the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of Englandmarker who refused to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the King's marriage and resigned rather than take an Oath of Supremacy declaring the King the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The King is Henry VIII of England and his wife is Catherine of Aragon, the first of an eventual six wives. Both the play and the film portray More as a man of principle, motivated by his devout Roman Catholic faith and envied by rivals such as Thomas Cromwell. He is also deeply loved by the common people and by his family.


The film opens with Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles), summoning Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) to his palace at Hampton Courtmarker. Desiring his support in obtaining a divorce from the Pope so that the King 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 scandalized by Wolsey's suggestion that they apply "pressure" in order to force the issue. More refuses to help.

Returning by a River Thames ferry to his estate at Chelseamarker, More finds Richard Rich (John Hurt), a young acquaintance from Cambridgemarker waiting by the dock for his return. 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 (Susannah York) with a young Protestant named William Roper (Corin Redgrave), who announces his desire to marry her. More, a devout Catholic, announces that his answer is "no" as long as Roper remains a "heretic".

Wolsey dies banished from Court in disgrace, having failed to coerce a divorce from the Pope. King Henry (Robert Shaw) appoints More as Lord Chancellor of Englandmarker.

Soon after, the King arrives by barge at 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 threats with promises of the Royal favor. 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 oarmen to cast off. His courtiers are left to run through the mud and into the river to catch up as the King laughs hysterically at their predicament.

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." A terrified More begs 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 Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern), one of More's enemies at Court.

As a humiliated Rich leaves, More's family pleads with him to have Rich arrested. More refuses, stating that Rich, while dangerous, has broken no law. Still seeking a position at Court, Rich enlists Cromwell's patronage and joins him in attempting to bring down More.

King Henry, tired of awaiting a divorce from the Vatican, declares 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 (Nigel Davenport), 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.

The King will not be appeased. He demands that More attend his wedding to Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave). More refuses and is summoned again to Hampton Courtmarker, 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. Unable to find any loopholes in the oath, More refuses to take it and is imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker.

In spite of the bullying tactics of Cromwell, the subtle manipulation of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (Cyril Luckham), 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. He is then informed that Rich has been promoted to Attorney General for Walesmarker as a reward.

Now having nothing left to lose, More angrily denounces the illegal nature of the King's actions, citing what he considers the Biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy over Christendom. He further declares that the immunity of the Church from State interference is guaranteed both in Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath. As the spectators scream in protest, More is condemned to death.

Later, outside the Tower of London, More makes the Sign of the Cross and kneels before the executioner's axe.

A narrator intones the epilogue.


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 Spanish 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, in order 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 Norfolk was the judge in the play's version 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.

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 the both the stage and screen versions of the story. Vanessa Redgrave did appear as Alice in a 1988 remake.

Awards and acclaim

The film was a box-office success, making $20,000,000 in Great Britain and the U.S. alone. Scofield's performance was particularly acclaimed.

Scofield won the Best Actor Oscar. The film also won Academy Awards 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 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 is number 43 on BFI (the British Film Institute) list of the top 100 British films.

Differences between 1966 film and 1988 television remake

Playwright Bolt's deletions for the 1966 film version were restored for the 1988 television film, directed and protagonised by Charlton Heston. A restored scene shows Margaret's tearful grief at More's death, whereas the 1966 film ends immediately after the executioner lets drop the axe, followed by closing narration.

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