Study Guide

A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons Introduction


Release Year: 1966

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Writer: Robert Bolt

Stars: Robert Shaw, Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller


If you took the claustrophobic political turmoil of Game of Thrones, stirred in some of Oscar Wilde's witty banter and a few Arthur Miller-style stirring speeches, added the period piece awesomeness of The Tudors, and created a starring role that's as stand-up as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, you might end up with A Man for All Seasons.

A Man for All Seasons began as a humble radio play written way back in 1954. The author, Robert Bolt, was an agnostic who nevertheless found himself totally in awe of the Catholic saint and martyr, Sir Thomas More. More was a man of principle, willing to take a stand against King Henry VIII's move away from the Catholic Church by refusing to endorse the king's unsanctioned divorce.

Even if his punishment meant divorcing his head from his body.

Bolt adapted his radio play into a stage play in 1960. From there, it became a smash hit both on London's West End and on Broadway. When it came time to adapt a movie version, Bolt wrote a third version: a screenplay. What resulted was an instant classic: A Man for All Seasons won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Paul Scofield, who played More), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best (Color) Cinematography.

Not too shabby.

A Man for All Seasons is still a hit with both religious and non-religious people alike: we're talking Catholic theologians and Catholic obscene beardos alike. Seriously—listen to Kevin Smith, director of Clerks and Dogma, talk about why he hearts a movie set in the 1530s:

"People will always compare that movie to The Crucible for some reason. But I never felt the same connection to The Crucible because in that instance John Proctor is just going to great lengths to try to keep his name, whereas Thomas More went to great lengths to keep what he felt was his soul intact. By taking that oath it would've been selling out on his soul, it would've been lying. He couldn't do it and I always found that insanely admirable and the life one wants to emulate to some degree." (Source)

There you have it.

This movie first swept the radio airwaves, then the West End and Broadway circuit, then the Oscars, and finally...Kevin Smith's heart. Whether you're a history buff, a divinity student, a lover of wordplay, or a fighter of injustice—we bet you'll be swept away, too.

What is A Man for All Seasons About and Why Should I Care?

True facts—you're not likely to be beheaded for refusing to sanction a king's divorce anytime soon. But chances are pretty close to 100% that there will come a time when you have to make a stand.

Maybe you'll have to choose between shutting some racist down and disturbing the calm of a dinner party. Maybe you'll have to choose between letting some jerk bully your little cousin and keeping your job at that jerk's dad's office. Maybe you'll have to choose between something truly harrowing… like giving Reese's cups out to trick-or-treaters at Halloween or eating the entire bag yourself.

And when that difficult day comes, you'll have to know how to stick to your guns. You'll need a role model—someone who knows what they believe in and won't give an inch. Luckily, you've got a great role model right in front of you: Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons.

We're not saying that you need to have the courage to sass-back King Henry VIII (or remain sassily silent, like Thomas More does). But you do need to know when to put your foot down. You need to know what your principles are. A Man for All Seasons' Thomas More emphasizes the fact that his principles are integral to his sense of self—if he gives them up, he effectively loses his identity.

And you know what else? You need to know how to not only stick up for your principles, but also to do it in style. Again: Robert Bolt's Thomas More is your man. If you need a mentor in the art of deadpan burns, withering sarcasm, or just well-placed wry asides… well, you've come to the right film, grasshopper.

Trivia

Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall portrays Thomas Cromwell in a sympathetic light while depicting More as fanatical and rigid in his thinking. This proved controversial.
(Source)

Aside from dying for his beliefs, Thomas More is probably most famous for authoring the book Utopia—an imaginary depiction of an ideal state in which wealth is shared by everyone. In fact, this book later earned More homage from the Soviet Union—an officially atheist country.
(Source)

Orson Welles dressed in robes that were modeled exactly on Cardinal Wolsey's, and even took eye drops to make his eyes look as red as Wolsey's apparently were.
(Source)

A Man for All Seasons Resources

Websites

A Man for All Seasons IMDB Page
The IMDB page on A Man for All Seasons has you covered when it comes to info—technical specifics, cast members, etc. (We have you covered when it comes to scintillating, in-depth summaries and analysis.)

A Man for All Seasons Rotten Tomatoes Page
Rotten Tomatoes aggregates a ton of reviews of A Man for All Seasons, so you have your pick of perspectives (from lame, befuddled perspectives to attentive, appreciative ones).

A Man for All Seasons Overview from TCM
Turner Classic Movies is one of the best things to ever happen to people who like classic movies. Its A Man for All Seasons page also offers some film clips, in addition to IMDB-style info on the film.

Plays

A Man for All Seasons (1954)
Originally written for radio, Bolt adapted A Man for All Seasons for the stage in 1960. It was a smash hit both in London's West End and on Broadway. Paul Scofield, who would star in the screen version, also played More in the London production.

TV Adaptations

A Man for All Seasons (1957)
In 1957, the BBC aired a one-hour live television version of the play.

A Man for All Seasons (1964)
This TV movie version (directed by William Sterling) sort of flew under the radar. The big screen version came out the next year and totally buried any memory of it. Seriously. There's not a whole lot on the internet about it.

A Man for All Seasons (1988)
This '80s TV version stars Charlton Heston (who also directed). Also, Vanessa Redgrave plays Alice More in this version, although in the more famous version—the one we're covering—she had a small, wordless cameo as Anne Boleyn.

Articles and Interviews

Original Review from The New York Times
A guy with the immortal name of Bosley Crowther originally reviewed A Man for All Seasons for The New York Times. He liked it.

TCM on A Man for All Seasons
This TCM article gives you the lowdown on some factoids.

Pauline Kael's Review of A Man for All Seasons for The New Republic
Kael was known for having sharp takes on movies, occasionally hating on future classics (she didn't like The Exorcist or Blade Runner). Here, while finding the movie "tasteful and moderately enjoyable," she attacks the idea that Thomas More was necessarily a great man. Like the writer Hilary Mantel, she probably would've been more sympathetic to Thomas Cromwell.

Variety's Review of A Man for All Seasons
Unlike Kael's review, this contemporaneous review from Variety's A.D. Murphy is much more positive.

The NY Daily News Review of A Man for All Seasons
In another review from when it came out, Kate Cameron of the New York Daily News gives the movie four stars, praising the acting: "But, over all these fine performances, including Robert Shaw's opulent, bluff, and forceful representation of the king, it is Scofield who dominates the screen with his gentle voice and steadfast refusal to kowtow to the king, even at the expense of his head."

Paul Scofield Interview
Paul Scofield chats a bit about his life and career, ranging well beyond A Man for All Seasons and Thomas More (though it's probably still his defining role).

Video

A Man for All Seasons Trailer
This trailer comes from the time period when the movie was released, but also evidently after the movie won its Best Picture Oscar (since the trailer pumps up that particular piece of info).

A Man for All Seasons Clip—"Give the Devil Benefit of Law"
In this clip, Scofield, as More, delivers one of his great speeches, lecturing his son-in-law on the need to let bad people also enjoy the protections of the law.

A Catholic Priest, Fr. Victor Feltes, Offers His Thoughts on the Movie
As you might expect, priests love A Man for All Seasons. Here, Father Victor Feltes offers some insights, explaining some of the movie's symbolism and translating the Latin passages heard and inscriptions seen in the movie.

A Man for All Seasons Winning Big at the 1967 Oscars
This clip shows A Man for All Seasons snatching up the awards for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor at the 1967 Oscars.

Audio

Soundtrack to the Opening Credits of A Man for All Seasons
This is a solid sample of Georges Delerue's score for the movie—royal, elegant, and pretty serious.

Images

A Promotional Poster for the Movie
In this original poster for the movie, an imposing silhouette of More stands in the center, while a tagline informs us that it's "a motion picture for all times!"

Another Promotional Poster
This poster comes from after the movie's spree of Oscar-winning—and it highlights that fact with a little golden Oscar in the corner.

Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More
Paul Scofield reprises his stage-role as More for the screen, looking honest and straightforward as ever.

Robert Shaw as King Henry VIII
Shaw plays the young, arrogant, blustering king—kind of different from his role as the old sea-dog, Quint, in Jaws.

Leo McKern as Thomas Cromwell
McKern conveys an impression of self-satisfied evil in his role as Cromwell.

Wendy Miller as Alice More
Here's a photo of Wendy Miller, whose career was basically crowned with this performance.

Susannah York as Margaret More
As More's daughter, York gives us the impression of an extremely well-educated, scholarly young woman.

John Hurt as Richard Rich
Here, John Hurt plays Rich holding More's would-be silver cup bribe. He would later go on to an illustrious role in Alien—with the titular alien bursting out of his chest and into movie history.

Robert Bolt, Author of the Original Play and Screenplay
Here, Robert Bolt rocks a writerly beard and a pair of distinguished suspenders.

Fred Zinnemann, the Director
Zinnemann was a Polish-Jewish immigrant who escaped Nazi persecution by moving to America in 1934. Both of his parents died in the Holocaust.

A Still from the Trial Sequence
This shot from the big courtroom sequence highlights More's isolation—he's in the middle of the room, surrounded by open space, with only his principles supporting him.