Director Fred Zinnemann’s 1966 film of the play by Robert Bolt showcases Paul Scofield’s sterling and definitive performance as the principled and courageous Sir Thomas More, Catholic Chancellor of England in 1528, who does battle with Robert Shaw’s heretical Henry VIII over his sought-after divorce from Catherine of Aragaon to marry Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave).
However it is just one of the many reasons to admire this smooth, polished and generally excellent version of Robert Bolt’s stage classic. Under Zinnemann’s firm control, the screenplay (by Robert Bolt), cast (also Wendy Hiller, Susannah York, Orson Welles, Leo McKern, Nigel Davenport, John Hurt, Corin Redgrave, Colin Blakely), costumes, production designs (by John Box), cinematography (Ted Moore), score (Georges Delerue) and direction all come together to the greatest effect, done with flair and panache.
Battling it out with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which had 13 nominations and ended up with five wins, A Man for All Seasons beat it, deservedly picking up six Oscars, which were for best picture, direction, actor (Scofield), screenplay, colour cinematography, costume design. However, you could argue which film was really best picture, and whether Scofield deserved to beat Richard Burton as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Shaw’s lusty Henry VIII is very striking and Welles’s star cameo as Cardinal Wolsey is on the hammy side but is is richly enjoyable. Also in the cast are Cyril Luckham as Archbishop Cranmer, Jack Gwillim as the Chief Justice, Thomas Heathcote, Yootha Joyce as Averil Machin, Anthony Nicholls, John Nettleton, Molly Urquhart and Martin Boddey.
Charlton Heston wanted to play More, and eventually did, but he had to wait until 1988 when he performed the part on stage and in a respectable TV movie remake, directed by himself.
Playing Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons was John Hurt’s breakout film role. He died on 22 January 1940, aged 77.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 4370
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