Friday, January 21, 2011

A Man for All Seasons

Paul Scofield, who played Thomas More in both the West End London and Broadway stage productions and in the 1966 film adaptation of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons was born on January 21, 1922. He won both the Academy Award and the Tony Award for Best Actor in that role.

One of the best scenes occurs when everyone in his family wants More to have Richard Rich arrested. Robert H. Bork notes that Bolt gets More's attitude to the law right in that scene:

"Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons got More remarkably right. In one scene, More, then the Lord Chancellor, argues with family members who are urging him to arrest Richard Rich, the man who was later to betray him. More’s daughter, Margaret, says, “Father, that man’s bad.” More answers, “There is no law against that.” His son-in-law, William Roper: “There is! God’s law!” More: “Then God can arrest him. . . . The law, Roper, the law. I know what’s legal, not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal. . . . I’m not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester.”

Bolt, in a familiar passage, has More say when assailed by his son-in-law with the charge that he would give the devil the benefit of law:

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? . . . And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? . . . This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? . . . Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake."

It's also interesting to note that Susannah York, who played his daughter Margaret--and shows off her Latin a bit too much for Henry VIII--died just last weekend.

Here is the trailer.


  1. Paul Schofield was also a Catholic which, I am sure, helped him hone his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in A Man for all seasons.

  2. Charlton Heston made a quite good Thomas More (happily, he did not attempt an accent) in a modestly-budgeted television version around 1985 or so. Vanessa Redgrave, who play Anne Boleyn in the 1966 version played Alice More in Heston's. Further, Heston returns The Common Man as narrator / chorus.

    -- Mack

  3. Mack, I remember seeing that movie (with John Gielgud as Cardinal Wolsey)--Heston also played Henry VIII one time in a movie version of the Prince and the Pauper.
    Richard, Scofield also played the role of the priest in a stage adaptation of Grahame Greene's "The Power and the Glory"!