Man For All Seasons, A (1966)

Man For All Seasons, A (1966)

“No; I will not sign.”

In 16th century England, Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) risks his life to uphold his beliefs regarding the divorce and remarriage of King Henry VIII (Richard Shaw).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fred Zinnemann Films
  • Historical Drama
  • John Hurt Films
  • Orson Welles Films
  • Paul Scofield Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Robert Shaw Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Susannah York Films
  • Wendy Hiller Films

Peary doesn’t review this Oscar-winning adaptation of Robert Bolt’s Tony-winning 1960 play in his GFTFF, but he does discuss it a bit in his Alternate Oscars, where he refers to the “strained politeness of Zinnemann’s classy but strangely dispassionate work” (I disagree) “about how Sir Thomas More (an Oscar-winning Paul Scofield) chose to give up his life rather than sanction Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn.” In comparing A Man For All Seasons with his personal pick for Best Picture that year — Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac — he notes that each film “contains scene after scene of confrontational, power-play conversations”; each is “about a man who loses everything while battling for his integrity”; and each “uses the catalytic appearance of intruders/visitors into a couple’s home to cause them to confront what’s drastically wrong with their marriage.” (That last point is a bit of a stretch for A Man of All Seasons, though More’s marriage — to Wendy Hiller’s Alice — does indeed become seriously strained.)

While Peary doesn’t award Scofield the Best Actor — he gives it instead to Richard Burton for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — he does concede that Scofield “gave a disarmingly dignified performance, quite unlike what moviegoers were used to in historical dramas.” He adds, “Until More’s outburst at his trial,” Scofield “delivers almost all of his lines quietly, with patience and restraint” — yet “his every word has both eloquence and force.”

I agree. I went into my viewing of this historical drama intentionally fuzzy on details (hoping to maximize impact), and given that I was unprepared even for well-known final outcomes, I found myself entirely gripped — thanks largely to Scofield’s consistently compelling (and, yes, understated) performance. However, the film itself is wonderfully mounted in its own right, with rich cinematography, opulent sets, colorful costumes, and excellent supporting performances across the board. Among the cast we see an appropriately larger-than-life Robert Shaw as King Henry VIII:

… Orson Welles as an appropriately larger-than-life Cardinal Wolsey:

… John Hurt (in his first significant cinematic role) as the socially aspirational Richard Rich:

… Susannah York as More’s daughter Margaret:

… Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell:

… and, in a very brief cameo, Vanessa Redgrave as Anne Boleyn.

Note: If you’re curious to know what happened after the film’s infamous final shot, click here.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Paul Scofield as Thomas More
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Ted Moore’s cinematography

  • Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge’s Oscar winning costume design
  • Georges Delerue’s score

Must See?
Yes, for Scofield’s performance and as an overall good show. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


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