What does a man profit by if he loses himself in the process? I'm paraphrasing, but this question is very much at the crux of Fred Zinnemann’s magnificent A Man For All Seasons (1966) a taut character and case study in defense of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), the English nobleman and lawyer who is first courted, then condemned by reigning English demigod, King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw). More opposes the King’s divorce from Queen Mary to wed his sixth wife, Anne Boleyn.
Henry’s appeal goes first to the Church of England where Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles) reluctantly signs the decree under duress. Wolsey is acutely aware of the church’s stance on divorce. But he also realizes the consequences for denying a royal command.
An engaging subplot involves More’s wife, Alice (Wendy Hiller), his daughter, Margaret (Susannah York) and her seditionist suitor, William Roper (Corin Redgrave). More will not allow Margaret to marry unless William pledges his allegiances to the Crown and respects his wishes as Margaret’s father and the ‘right hand’ of the throne of England – something Roper emphatically refuses to do.
Meanwhile, the ambitious Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern) has correctly assessed the peoples’ waning affections for their ruler. Ruthlessly, he blackmails More’s young charge, Matthew (Colin Blakely) to defame More’s credibility and reputation, forcing the king to declare More’s actions as treason against the state and inadvertently turning the people against him.
A Man for All Seasons is powerful melodrama – rigidly explored through mannerisms rather than actions. This is immensely satisfying because of the potpourri of finely wrought performances given by some of the finest actors of their generation, beginning with Paul Scofield's meticulous handling of Sir Thomas - a truly inspired tour de force, brilliant and spellbinding - if ever worthy of his Best Actor Oscar statuette.
Robert Shaw is threatening and fiery as the King Henry. Orson Welles and Leo McKern are riveting as two sides to the same flawed equation. How to usurp a throne without being toppled from their own authority. Director Zinnemann is frequently criticized for his methodical pacing, unjustly misconstrued as leaden. It is not. Rather, he adds a sustained momentum to this tempest brewing beneath each cultured collar and corset.
Sony Home Entertainment has re-released A Man For All Seasons as a 'Special Edition'. Image quality is dramatically different than that featured on the previously released DVD. The SE exhibits a much darker image. Colors are more fully saturated, bold and vibrant. Flesh tones however, are perhaps still a tad pasty and just a bit too reddish over the original DVD.The image on the SE is quite solid with more than a fair amount of fine detail realized. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum.
Some minor edge enhancement and aliasing crop up but nothing that will distract. Unfortunately, the image on this new release is 'too dark'. The previously released DVD bumped up contrast levels allowed for a greater amount of visual information during night scenes. Occasionally, the image is also slightly out of focus.The SE's audio has been re-channeled to stereo with predictable limitations in sonic fidelity. The original mono is also included.
The only extra on the SE is a brief history of Sir Thomas More with various historians providing a rather interesting commentary on the real man. The SE also contains several theatrical trailers that begin automatically before the feature film - annoying, simply annoying! There are no extras on the standard disc.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)