And that simple phrase sums up the worldly view of a man who had a conscience and an “intolerable moral squint.”
Robert Bolt’s play of the same name was adapted for the screen by the playwright himself, and he made adjustments to the script by adding a few scenes crucial to the narrative once he removed the play’s narrator, the Common Man, a role Leo McKern originated on the stage both in London and New York. McKern was then employed as “Master Cromwell,” who replaced Wolsey after Wolsey couldn’t perform the task of resolving the matter of King Henry VIII’s divorce.
But the showcase role, which earned Paul Scofield an Academy Award, was not initially awarded to Scofield. Sir Richard Burton was first considered, but he turned them down flat with his Welsh pragmatism. Even Sir Laurence Olivier regarded the role as that of Scofield’s and eventually the powers that be, who felt Scofield not a well-known enough actor required to carry such a financial expenditure, acquiesced.
A Renaissance man, Sir Thomas More, was confident in his beliefs about God and man, and refused King Henry’s demands for More’s oath of allegiance to the Act of Succession:
“I (state you name) do utterly testifie and declare in my Conscience, that the Kings Highnesse is the onely Supreame Governour of this Realme, and all other his Highnesse Dominions and Countries, as well in all Spirituall or Ecclesiasticall things or causes, as Temporall: And that no forraine Prince, Person, Prelate, State or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction, Power, Superiorities, Preeminence or Authority Ecclesiasticall or Spirituall within this Realme. And therefore, I do utterly renounce and forsake all Jurisdictions, Powers, Superiorities, or Authorities; and do promise that from henchforth I shall beare faith and true Allegiance to the Kings Highnesse, his Heires and lawfull Successors: and to my power shall assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Priviledges, Preheminences and Authorities granted or belonging to the Kings Highnesse, his Heires and Successors or united and annexed to the Imperial Crowne of the Realme: so helpe me God: and by the Contents of this Booke.”
More’s defense at his trial included references to the Magna Carta, The Bible, and the King’s own Act of Supremacy in 1535.
Director Fred Zinneman and Actor Paul Scofield on the set of A Man For All Seasons..
Paul Scofield’s performance, both staid and erudite, passive at moments, and passionate at others, reveals how a man of conscience deals with power mongers of any century. Originating the stage role in Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons, his portrayal of More on the boards received acclaim on both sides of the pond.
Richard Rich, the ambitious backwater politician, is seen as the man instigating the conflict and downfall of More at the hands of Cromwell, and John Hurt’s first screen role as Rich, makes us feel his burning ambition, and that anyone who steps in his path, even a man as righteous as More, will be undone. Hurt’s moment of high perjury as Rich is the catalyst for Scofield’s most impassioned speech during A Man For All Seasons, and without Hurt’s grabbing and scratching for supremacy in the theatre of men as Richard Rich, More’s shock at Rich’s blatancy evolved to the passion and erudition of More’s final speech before Parliament.
Scofield received many acting awards and honors during his lifetime, but was very selective about his screen choices. His 1962 performance of King Lear on the British stage was voted the best stage performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company in a poll encompassing 400 years of performances, and voters included some of the greatest stage actors of our times.(Judi Dench’s Lady Macbeth came in second.) Scofield did not seek the limelight, or awards, but he did seek to find roles that were memorable and rewarding, and viewers of A Man For All Seasons are the recipients of Scofield’s nuanced performance and dedication to his craft.
A portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein The Younger commissioned in 1527…
A Man For All Seasons won six Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Fred Zinneman), Best Actor for Paul Scofield, Best Costume Design (Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge), Best Screenplay from another medium for Robert Bolt, and Best Cinematography (Ted Moore).
It’s on today on TCM! Check the schedule for local screenings: http://www.tcm.com/schedule/
Scofield’s biography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006890/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
A Man For All Seasons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_for_All_Seasons_(1966_film)
The Royal Shakespeare Poll: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1469918/Scofields-Lear-voted-the-greatest-Shakespeare-performance.html
More tropes about the play and film: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Theatre/AManForAllSeasons
The Trial of Sir Thomas More: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/more/more.html
A Facebook page and safe haven for all fans of A Man For All Seasons created by Sam Loomis: https://www.facebook.com/groups/267080256773209/