Off With His Head
A Man for All Seasons is a handsome production. In other words, it is staid, stern, plodding, and precise, with about as much passion as your 11th-grade history textbook.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once said, “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider the capacity for it terrifying.” Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), chancellor of England, has an unquestioning faith. A devout Catholic, More refuses to support King Henry VIII’s (Robert Shaw) divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he can marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave). When the petulant king breaks with Rome and the Pope, More resigns his chancellorship in protest. The king is so unsure in his new position as head of the Church of England that More’s continued refusal to acknowledge it terrifies him, and More ends up imprisoned in the Tower of London for his stubborn convictions.
The film looks great, and the performances are fine, including Leo McKern as a kind of grand inquisitor and John Hurt as his toady, and Orson Welles as the oily Cardinal Wolsey. But somehow the movie never gelled for me. Much of the plot revolves around debates about the intricacies of church law and secular law, which are hard to make interesting.
But the real problem is that I never really believed More’s deep faith in his religion, which led him ultimately to the chopping block. Perhaps that’s my problem, and not the film’s. As a nonbeliever, maybe I just can’t accept that someone would abandon his family and condemn himself to death over a fear of being damned to hell — I find it sad that people will deny their whole lives for the illusory promise of another one. Though Scofield’s More speaks repeatedly of his faith, he never made me see beyond my own feelings to feel his.
A Man for All Seasons is preaching to the choir — if you’re in the choir, you may find it a lot more enjoyable that I did.
Oscars Best Picture 1966
unforgettable movie moment:
In just about the only truly passionate scene in the film, More and his dear friend the Duke of Norfolk stage an argument, allowing Norfolk to distance himself from the rebellious More.