Another great surprise, knowing absolutely nothing about a movie as I pressed play. A Man for All Seasons sounded like a title I’d heard before and I was expecting a black and white musical full of fun and frivolity. And even though nothing says “fun and frivolity” like the Catholic church in sixteenth century England, I may have been a just a little off the mark.
Yep, this is not a black and white musical romp about a young couple in love. It’s a full colour period piece about King Henry VIII giving of the finger to the Pope in his quest to bone more dolly birds. But more specifically, it’s about humourless killjoy, Sir Thomas More, who refused to get behind his kingly bro and give him a royal high five every time he ruined another corset. So, not only was the subject matter a surprise, it was a great little history lesson on something I’d only ever been slightly aware of.
There’s some great, very-British “acting” on display. With the best example coming from the very not-British Orson Wells. As Cardinal Wolsey, he sets up the story for what’s going down. The King wants a previous marriage stricken from the Catholic books so he can get in the pants of a chick who will hopefully give him a son and heir. This same conversation also introduces us to Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, and all his old school, churchie hang ups. He reckons the Pope runs this show and that King Henry should just accept he’s married a barren munter and move on. Wolsey soon pops his clogs and the King names More as Wosley’s successor.
King Henry visits More’s house and tries to persuade him that the Pope might not be the best horse to bet on in this race. More gives one of his many, many, many speeches about his beliefs, his commitment to the church, his dedicati… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry, I nodded off for a second there thinking about his speechifying. So, More refuses to take the King’s side, but he also refuses to disagree with it on the record. He figures not taking a side publically will keep him out of trouble.
One interesting decision made by A Man for All Seasons is the disappearance of Robert Shaw’s Henry VIII from about the halfway mark. The scene mentioned above at More’s house soon after More’s appointment as Lord Chancellor introduces the King and does a great job of making us believe he’s likeable, terrifying, smart, clueless and egotistical all at the same time. But once the bromance between More and Henry goes south, he’s never seen again. Everything we learn about the King and his opinions from then on is through hearsay. I thought that was a really cool way to convey the abandonment felt by More.
At the risk of spoiling a story based on historical common knowledge that’s centuries old, the big hurdle for me was sympathising with Sir Thomas More. I know I’m supposed to be in awe of his commitment to his beliefs and the strength of his convictions, but when he’s willing to lose so much over something so trivial, he just seems more blindly stupid than a man of impenetrable honour.