When I saw this movie, I immediately thought maybe it has inspired one of my favorite Grease 2 numbers, Girl for all Seasons. Alas, I believe I was mistaken. Actually, A Man for All Seasons, which won the Oscar back in 1966, is decidedly not a light hearted, if somewhat terrible sequel; it’s more like the big brother to this year’s best Picture winner, The King’s Speech, but without a core friendship (actually replaced by some core hatred) and without being anywhere near as fun to watch. So…maybe all they have in common is an Oscar, some British thespians and a King. Close enough!
The man for all seasons in the title is Sir Thomas Moore, the Chancellor of England under the delightful and kill-happy King Henry VIII (or eighth, for you non-roman numeral readers). Why is Sir Thomas, played by Best Actor Oscar winner Paul Scofield, a “man for all seasons,” you may ask? No, he is not a four season athlete, but rather, according to the man who wrote the play the film is based on (also called A Man for All Seasons), that Moore is “the ultimate man of conscience and as remaining true to his principles and religion under all circumstances and at all times.”
In this movie, Moore’s man of all seasons-ness is put to the test. As apparently the only dude with any kind of sense of right and wrong, he tells Henry that it’s a bad idea to divorce his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, for his mistress, Anne Boleyn, without the approval of the Pope. It’s pretty clear (as history will show), that the Pope is never going to have this, which leads to Henry’s break with the church and the establishment of the Church of England, which Henry conveniently names himself head of and can do whatever he wants. Must be nice to be king.
This raises the question: who cares? If Henry wants to toss out the old lady and get a new wife, why does he care what Sir Thomas thinks? As the chancellor and a member of the Privy Council, More is the only one to refuse to sign a letter to the Pope urging him to dissolve the marriage (that conscience thing coming into play again). Then, when Henry takes it upon himself to form a new church, everyone in England must swear loyalty and recognize the king’s new marriage. Again, Sir Thomas refuses.
If you know anything about Henry VIII, you can likely piece together how this played out for good ol’ Sir Thomas. Spoiler alert: not well. King Henry is played by Robert Shaw, and is a delightful bi-polaresque mixture of batshit crazy and over the top ecstatic. Exactly what one would want in a King and total ruler of their country.
There are a bunch of other miscellaneous subplots around More’s daughter and her heretic boyfriend, all the other Privy Council members that hate Sir Thomas for being such a righteous jerk and not signing the King’s letter and various monologues about how moral Sir Thomas is, by Sir Thomas himself. I’m not going to call this my favorite Oscar winner to date, but it wasn’t half bad. It was definitely no Amadeus, so that’s something, I guess?
- One of only 4 productions to win both the Best Play Tony (1962) and the Best Picture Oscar (1966). The other 3 are My Fair Lady (1957/1964), The Sound of Music (1960/1965) and Amadeus (1981/1984)
- Paul Scofield won the 1962 Tony Award (New York City) for Actor in a Drama for “A Man for All Seasons” and recreated his role in the filmed production
- Budget: $3.9 Million (estimate) gross revenue: $25 million worldwide