Unrated. Running time: 2 hours.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (0-5): 5
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
A Man For All Seasons, the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1966, tells the story of a man who said “No” to a king who demanded what he in good conscience believed belonged only to God and the church. Fred Zinnemann directed the script adapted by Robert Bolt based on his play about the battle of conscience and wills between the King of England and one of his loyal subjects. Actors Robert Shaw as the King and Paul Schofield as the only man in England who has the courage to say “No” to the king are magnificent in their roles!
In the early 1530s King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw), worried about the failure of his wife Catherine of Aragon to birth a male heir, decides that he will lay aside his wife so that he can marry the young, and hopefully fertile, Anne Bolyn (Vanessa Redgrave). The Pope has denied the king’s request for an annulment, so King Henry breaks with Rome, declaring himself to be the head of the church in England. All of his officials, even Archbishop Cranmer, support him in this venture—all but one, his Lord High Chancellor of England Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield). A devout believer in the supremacy of the Pope, Sir Thomas would not sign the letter that the King had sent to the Rome. A good sample of the dialogue between the King and his friend follows:
King Henry: “Oh, Thomas, Thomas, Thomas! Does a man need a Pope to tell him where he’s sinned? It was a sin. God’s punished me. I have no son. Son after son she’s borne me – all dead at birth or dead within the month. Never saw the hand of God so clear in anything. It’s my bounden duty to put away the Queen, and all the popes back to Peter shall not come between me and my duty! How is it that you cannot see? Everyone else does.”
Sir Thomas: “Then why does your Grace need my poor support?”
King Henry: “Because you’re honest… and what is more to the purpose, you’re KNOWN to be honest. There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown; and those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I’m their tiger; there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves. And then there’s you…”
Sir Thomas: “I am sick to think how much I must displease your Grace.”
King Henry: “No, Thomas, I respect your sincerity. But respect… man, that’s water in the desert.”
The break with Rome takes place, with a compliant Parliament going along with the King’s desire to remarry and assure the realm an heir. All officials are ordered to take an Oath of Allegiance. To avoid this More resigns his post and seeks safety in retirement. Quite a step in a society in which men cherished power, but in a statement echoing some words of Christ, Sir Thomas observes, “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
Even in retirement More found himself under intense pressure to take the oath. He thought that by not speaking at all in public that his silence would save him, but his silence at a time when every notable figure but himself had accepted the king as head of the church–his silence–was deafening. His wife (Wendy Hiller) and daughter plead with him to yield, as did powerful nobles such as the Duke of Norfolk, but to no avail. A campaign to blacken More’s name includes the following exchange, very revelatory of Thomas More’s character. Cromwell (Leo McKern) says to the Duke of Norfolk (Nigel Davenport), “I have evidence that Sir Thomas, while he was a judge, accepted bribes.” The Duke is not convinced, “What? Goddammit, he was the only judge since Cato who didn’t accept bribes! When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions after three years in office totaled one hundred pounds and a gold chain?”
Finally it is a sycophant named Richard Rich (John Hurt) with a grudge against More whose false testimony is used at the trial to win a guilty verdict against the hold out. After the sentence of death is passed and Rich is leaving the courtroom, Sir Thomas stops him, and, holding the pendant of office hanging from the betrayer’s neck, sees that Rich has been given lordship over Wales as the reward for his perjury. Sarcastically, almost chastising the young man for selling out so cheaply, he says scornfully, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?
Among the last lines of the play are words between Sir Thomas, the executioner, and Archbishop Cranmer. To the axe man he says, “I forgive you right readily,” and gives him a coin. ”Be NOT afraid of your office; you send me to God.” Cramner interjects, “You’re very sure of that, Sir Thomas?” As he kneels before the chopping block Sir Thomas replies, “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.”
Clearly the Man For All Season knew what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. For him there could be no compromise even when his life depended upon it. Just before the axe falls Sir Thomas says to the witnesses, “I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King’s obedient subject, brief I will be. I die his Majesty’s good servant but God’s first.” Thus this “man for all seasons,’ even if we might disagree with his belief in the supremacy of the Pope, knew well what belonged to Caesar and what belonged to God.
The dialogues come from IMDb, A Man For All Seasons.