Starring: Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Leo McKern
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Running Time: 120 mins
A Man For All Seasons is a British film about the story of Thomas More, and his staunch protestations to King Henry VIII’s rejection of the Catholic Church in his attempts to remarry.
With a genuinely fascinating insight into one of the most important social upheavals in all of history, A Man For All Seasons is a fantastic historical drama, impressing with deep political intrigue as well as a fascinating portrayal of one man who stood against the tide of the times. Complete with a stellar lead performance from Paul Scofield, as well as divine costume and production design throughout, this makes for an enthralling watch throughout.
What I want to talk about first is the way this film tells the history of Sir Thomas More and the developments of the Reformation. It’s a fascinating history, however the focus of the period is more often than not directed towards King Henry VIII, and the more exciting, controversial developments of the era, however this film demonstrates the intense political impact of the King’s actions, and the immense social consequences that came about as a result.
So, while you have the intrigue that follows the split from the Catholic Church, A Man For All Seasons is most enthralling for its demonstration of the complex political manoeuvering by the King’s advisors, councillors and politicians, as well as major figures from both sides of the growing religious divide. In that, you have a fascinating and particularly striking portrait of the betrayals and backstabbings from various individuals in order to continue winning favour with the King, while Thomas More stood firm in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition.
In that story, as well as the political intrigue, there’s an engrossing personal story that centres on the psyche and mentality of Thomas More, whose staunch rejection of the King’s actions and intended split from the Church led to him resting heavily on his principles and beliefs, despite temptation from every direction to go against his conscience.
What’s more, More’s reliance on a deep knowledge of the law and the legality of the King and Parliament’s proposals opens up the film’s final act to work as a brilliant courtroom drama, and even though it may not have the fast-paced and hyperbolic excitement and intrigue of modern-day legal thrillers, there’s a pleasingly detailed and assured approach to the legalese here, and the film does a brilliant job to keep you engrossed in the political wranglings and legal proceedings even when things start getting really complicated (and in some cases, even spoken in Latin).
All of that is what makes A Man For All Seasons a really engrossing film, and it does a great job not to go down the easy route of so many period dramas that focus more on the pomp and circumstance of the past than the actual reality of what went on. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have some fantastic production design, and looks great throughout, but the main focus here is without a doubt the politics and personal drama, which I was really impressed by.
And finally, we have to talk about the lead performance from Paul Scofield, which is equally brilliant. Not only does he perfectly capture the aura of a learned, principled and strong-willed figure, but he does so in a manner that commands both genuine likability and real respect. As a result, while Thomas More puts up an almost endlessly staunch defense of his position, you go along entirely with him in his efforts, and thanks to Scofield’s brilliant turn, the character’s motivations and mindset is as clear as day from beginning to end.
Overall, I really liked A Man For All Seasons. A clever, assured and well-focused historical drama that, while looking wonderful, lends its key emphasis to riveting political, legal and personal drama throughout, all of which is furthered by a fantastic lead performance from Paul Scofield that makes the story of Sir Thomas More a genuinely enthralling one throughout, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.8.