Next month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the film, A Man for All Seasons. And if it’s impossible to imagine such a picture on such a theme winning Oscars today, then let’s be grateful that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got it right by giving Fred Zinnemann’s splendid movie six of its awards in 1967 – when, reputedly, Audrey Hepburn lifted her eyes to heaven before announcing with obvious pleasure that this cinematic celebration of the witness and martyrdom of Sir Thomas More had beaten The Sand Pebbles, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?, Alfie, and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming for Best Picture.
Intriguingly, though, A Man for All Seasons is a magnificent religious film – perhaps the best ever – despite its author’s stated intentions.
Robert Bolt’s introduction to his play, which led to the movie, makes it rather clear that author Bolt saw More less as a Catholic martyr than as an existential hero, an approach befitting the hot philosophical movement of the day (which was, of course, the Sixties). As Bolt put it:
“Thomas More…became for me a man with an adamantine sense of his own self. He knew where he began and left off, what areas of himself he could yield to the encroachments of his enemies, and what to the encroachments of those he loved. It was a substantial area in both cases, for he had a proper sense of fear and was a busy lover. Since he was a clever man and a great lawyer he was able to retire from those areas in wonderfully good order, but at last he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming, and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff…”
Read more at Ethics & Public Policy Center.