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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Classic Film Review: A Man For All Seasons (1966)

A Man For All Seasons tells the true story of Sir Thomas More who stood up to King Henry VIII following the split from Rome and eventually lost his life for his principles. It stars Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, Wendy Hiller as Alice More, Susannah York as Margaret More, Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey, Leo McKern as Cromwell and John Hurt as Rich.

This film deserves its reputation as a powerful and enthralling work. Paul Scofield delivers a stunning central performance. It's difficult to pick out particular scenes as especially worthy of merit but the courtroom drama towards the end of the film was compelling. Scofield embraces the character so completely that he becomes More and adds an authenticity to the role which I doubt would have been present with another actor.

The rest of the cast is almost as captivating. Leo McKern makes an excellent Cromwell while John Hurt's performance as the traitorous Rich is equally as good. Although Orson Welles is only in the film comparatively briefly, his Wolsey is certainly one to remember. Nigel Davenport as the Duke of Norfolk and Corin Redgrave as Will Roper are also worthy of praise. That said, there's no cast member large or small who makes this film weaker in any sense.

Beautifully filmed, it invokes Tudor England marvellously, from the splendour of the palace to the idyll of More's home in Chelsea. The opening scenes with a messenger being dispatched and rowing along the river roots the audience in an England that is both recognisable and distant. It may be hard for a modern viewer to understand the devout religious belief which is the cornerstone of More's story but the idea of a man holding firm to his principles, whatever the cost, resonates throughout the ages. It also shines a light on those willing to sacrifice their beliefs in order to save their lives and further their careers, another lesson for modern audiences.

All aspects considered, this is an excellent film, the most realistic and engrossing of any I've seen focused on the Tudor era. It wholeheartedly deserved the clutch of Oscars and BAFTAs it won.

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