A Man for All Seasons (1966 film)

A Man for All Seasons

Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay by Robert Bolt
Based on A Man for All Seasons
1960 play
by Robert Bolt
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Ted Moore
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Highland Films
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
12 December 1966 (USA) March 1967 (UK)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $28.4 million[2]

A Man for All Seasons is a 1966 British biographical drama film in Technicolor based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name and adapted for the big screen by Bolt himself. It was released on 12 December 1966. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann, who had previously directed the films High Noon and From Here to Eternity. The film won six Oscars at the 39th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.

The film and play both depict the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul King Henry VIII of England's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and resigned rather than take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. Both the play and the film portray More as a tragic hero, motivated by his devout Roman Catholic faith and envied by rivals, such as Thomas Cromwell. He is also deeply loved by his family and respected by the common people. The film's story is set between 1529 and 1535, at the high point of the reign of Henry VIII of England. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West End stage premiere, also took the role in the film, and is joined by Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles and Susannah York. Also appearing are Nigel Davenport, Leo McKern, Corin Redgrave and, in one of his earliest screen roles, John Hurt.

A Man for All Seasons was a critical and box office success. The film ranked number 43 on the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films. In 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican listed it among the greatest movies of all time.[3]


The title reflects playwright Bolt's portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience and as remaining true to his principles and religion under all circumstances and at all times. Bolt borrowed the title from Robert Whittington, a contemporary of More, who in 1520 wrote of him:

More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.[4][5]


Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of England, summons Sir Thomas More to Hampton Court, one of the principal royal palaces in the vicinity of London, for a private, late-night meeting. As both men know, King Henry VIII wishes to divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. Saying that England needs a male heir to prevent another period of dynastic wars like the Wars of the Roses and that Henry's present queen cannot provide one, Wolsey chastises More for being the only member of the Privy Council to oppose Wolsey's policies to obtain a divorce from the Vatican. More states that it is appropriate to try to persuade the Pope to grant a divorce by argument, but that he can never go along with Wolsey's suggestion that they apply "pressure" on Church property and revenue in England to force the issue. To Wolsey's fury, More responds, "No, Your Grace. I am not going to help you." Unknown to More, the conversation is overheard by Wolsey's aide, Thomas Cromwell.

Returning by a River Thames ferry to his home at Chelsea at dawn, More finds Richard Rich, waiting by the dock for his return, lobbying for a position at Court. More recommends against that, citing many corruptions, and instead recommends Rich find a job as a teacher. Rich declines More's advice, saying that has little prestige.

More enters his house to find his daughter Meg chatting with a brilliant young lawyer named William Roper, who announces his desire to marry her. The devoutly Catholic More states that he respects Roper but that his answer will remain, "No," as long as Roper remains a Lutheran.

Some time later, Wolsey, stripped of his office due to his failure to procure the divorce, dies of a heart attack while staying in a monastery far away from London. King Henry appoints More as Lord Chancellor of England to succeed Wolsey.

Soon after, the King makes an "impromptu" visit to the More estate to inquire about his divorce. Sir Thomas, not wishing to admit that his conscience forbids him to use unethical means to get the results the King demands, remains unmoved as Henry alternates between threats, tantrums, and promises of unbounded Royal favour. The King claims he respects More for showing his conscience, but when More refers to Catherine of Aragon as Queen, King Henry shouts he is without a queen. Enraged, King Henry returns to his barge and orders the oarsmen to cast off. At the embankment, Rich is asked by Cromwell whether he has information that could damage More's reputation. In exchange, Cromwell promises him a position at Court.

Roper, learning of More's quarrel with the King, reveals that his religious opinions have altered considerably. He declares that by attacking the Church, the King has become "the Devil's minister." A horrified More admonishes him to be more guarded as Rich arrives, pleading again for a position at Court. When More again refuses, Rich denounces More's steward as a spy for Cromwell. An unmoved More responds, "Of course, that's one of my servants."

Humiliated, Rich joins Cromwell in attempting to bring down More. Meanwhile, the King tires of Papal refusals and has Parliament declare him "Supreme Head of the Church of England." He demands that both the bishops and Parliament renounce all allegiance to the Pope. More quietly resigns as Lord Chancellor rather than accept the new order. As he does so, his close friend, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, attempts to draw his opinions out as part of a friendly chat with no witnesses present. More, however, knows that the time for speaking openly of such matters is over.

Cromwell, in a meeting with Norfolk, implies that More's troubles would be alleviated were he to attend the King's wedding to Anne Boleyn. When More declines the invitation, he is summoned again to Hampton Court, now occupied by Cromwell. More is interrogated on his opinions but refuses to answer. Infuriated, Cromwell declares that the King views him as a traitor, but allows him to return home.

Upon returning home, Meg informs her father that a new oath is being circulated and that all must take it or face charges of high treason. Initially, More says he would be willing to take the oath, provided it refers only to the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn. Upon learning that it names the King as Supreme Head of the Church, More refuses to take it and is subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Despite the coercive tactics of Cromwell, the subtle manipulations of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and the pleadings of both the Duke of Norfolk and his own family, More remains steadfast in his refusal to take the Oath. He refuses to explain his objections, knowing that he cannot be convicted without a stated reason. A request for new books to read backfires, resulting in confiscation of the books he has, and Richard Rich removes them from More's cell.

More is finally brought to trial, but refuses to speak about the marriage or why he will not take the Oath, and cites his silence in defense. Rich then testifies that when he came to take away More's books, More told him he would not take the Oath because the King could not be Head of the Church, thus committing treason by contradicting the Act of Supremacy. More is convicted of treason on the perjured testimony of Rich, who has been made Attorney General for Wales as a reward.

Now having nothing left to lose, More denounces the King's actions as illegal. As grounds, he cites the Biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy over Christendom. He further declares that the Church's immunity to State interference is guaranteed both in Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath. As the audience screams in protest, More is condemned to death by beheading. Before his execution on Tower Hill, More pardons the executioner, and says, "I die His Majesty's good servant, but God's first."

A narrator (voiced by Colin Blakely, who also played the part of More's servant Matthew) intones the epilogue:

"Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitors' Gate for a month. Then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it 'til her death. Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The Archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the King died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed."



Robert Bolt adapted the screenplay himself. The running commentary of The Common Man was deleted and the character was divided into the roles of the Thames boatman, More's steward, an innkeeper, the jailer from the Tower, the jury foreman and the executioner. The subplot involving the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, was also excised. A few minor scenes were added to the play, for instance Wolsey's death, More's investiture as Chancellor, and the King's wedding to Anne Boleyn, to cover narrative gaps left by the exclusion of the Common Man.

For obvious reasons, the Brechtian staging of the final courtroom scene (which depicted the Jury as consisting of the Common Man and several sticks bearing the hats of the various characters he has played) is changed to a more realistic setting. Also, while the Duke of Norfolk was the judge both historically and in the play's depiction of the trial, the character of the Chief Justice (Jack Gwillim) was created for the film. Norfolk is still present, but plays little role in the proceedings.


The producers initially feared that Scofield was not a big enough name to draw in audiences, so the producers approached Richard Burton, who turned down the part. Laurence Olivier was also considered, but director Zinnemann demanded that Scofield be cast. He played More both in London's West End and on Broadway; the latter appearance led to a Tony Award.

Alec Guinness was the studio's first choice to play Cardinal Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole was the first choice to play Henry VIII. Richard Harris was also considered. Bolt wanted film director John Huston to play Norfolk, but he refused. Vanessa Redgrave was originally to have played Margaret, but she had a theatre commitment. She agreed to a cameo as Anne Boleyn on the condition that she not be billed in the part or mentioned in the previews.

To keep the budget at under $2 million, the actors all took salary cuts. Only Scofield, York, and Welles were paid salaries exceeding £10,000. For playing Rich, his first major film role, John Hurt was paid £3,000. Vanessa Redgrave appeared simply for the fun of it and refused to accept any money.

Leo McKern had played the Common Man in the original West End production of the show, but had been shifted to Cromwell for the Broadway production. He and Scofield are the only members of the cast to appear in both the stage and screen versions of the story. Vanessa Redgrave did appear as Lady Alice in a 1988 remake.


Box office

The film was a box office success, making $28,350,000 in the US alone,[2] making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 1966.

Critical reception

It has received positive reviews from film critics, with an 86% approval rating in review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[6] A. D. Murphy of Variety wrote: "Producer-director Fred Zinnemann has blended all filmmaking elements into an excellent, handsome and stirring film version of A Man for All Seasons."[7]

Paul Scofield's performance was particularly praised. Kate Cameron of the New York Daily News said: "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 genteel voice and steadfast refusal to kowtow to the king, even at the expense of his head."[8] However, Pauline Kael gave the film a more critical review, writing: "There's more than a little of the school pageant in the rhythm of the movie: Though it's neater than our school drama coaches could make it, the figures group and say their assigned lines and move on."[9]

It's also ranked number 43 on the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films.


Academy Awards

British Academy Film Awards

Golden Globe Awards

The film was also entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival where Scofield won the award for Best Actor.[10]

See also


  1. "A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 December 1966. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 Box Office Information for A Man For All Seasons. The Numbers. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  3. "Marking Centennial of Cinema, Vatican Names 45 Best Films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013
  4. Whittinton, R. in The Vulgaria of John Stonbridge and the Vulgaria of Robert Whittinton, ed Beatrice White, Kraus Reprint, 1971, at Google Books. Accessed 10 March 2012.
  5. Cited by O'Connell, M. in A Man for all Seasons: an Historian's Demur from Catholic Dossier 8 No. 2 (March–April 2002), pp. 16–19, at Catholic Education Resource Center
  6. A Man for All Seasons. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  7. Murphy, A.D. (13 December 1966). "Review: 'A Man For All Seasons'". Variety (magazine). Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  8. "A Man for All Seasons": 1966 review. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  9. Film Classic: "A Man for All Seasons" (February 25, 1967). Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  10. "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Retrieved 15 December 2012.

External links

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