A Man for All Seasons (1966)





Director:     Fred Zinnemann

Starring:     Paul Scofield (Thomas More), Wendy Hiller (Alice More), Leo McKern (Cromwell), Robert Shaw (Henry VIII), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), Susannah York (Margaret), Nigel Davenport (Duke of Norfolk), John Hurt (Rich), Corin Redgrave (Roper), Colin Blakely (Matthew), Cyril Luckham (Archbishop Cranmer), Jack Gwillim (Chief Justice).

Sir Thomas More won't compromise




Spoiler Warning:

Cardinal Wolsey sends a note to Thomas More.  The note is carried by boat to the More house.  The messenger runs the note up to the mansion and gives it to More.  More reads the note and tells his guests that Cardinal Wolsey wants to see him in Hampton Court.  [Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, in the historic county of Middlesex, that has not been inhabited by the British Royal Family since the 18th century. The palace is located 11.7 miles (18.8 kilometers) south west of Charing Cross and upstream of central London on the River Thames. It was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favorite of King Henry VIII, circa 1514.]  More doesn't care  much for Wolsey, the butcher's son.  More's guests don't like the idea that Thomas has to run off whenever the Cardinal wishes.  After all, More is a member of the King's High Council and not an errand boy.  

More gets ready to go.  As he starts to walk out, the local Duke tells him to be wary of the Cardinal for he is a frightened man

Wolsey tells More that he did not like the idea that Thomas opposed him in the Council this morning.  Thomas was his only opponent.  "You're a fool", the Cardinal says.  "You're a constant regret to me, Thomas."  Thomas can't see reality straight on without that horrible moral squint of his.

King Henry VIII comes back from a ride.  Wolsey watches the King and tells Thomas that Henry has been off seeing Mistress Anne Boleyn again.  The Cardinal wants to know if More is going to play ball with him?   The King wants a son and the Cardinal wants to know what Thomas is going to do about that?  More doesn't really want to answer the question.  Wolsey says the King's wife Catherine is barren as a brick.  Anne Boleyn is at least fertile. 

The Cardinal wants to secure the King a divorce from Catherine of Spain.   He asks if Thomas is going to help him or not?  Thomas finally says:  " No, your Grace, I'm not going to help you."  The Cardinal says:  "Then good night, Master More."  He says that if Henry Tudor doesn't have any male heirs, there will be rampant dynastic wars again.  The Cardinal says More might be able to succeed him in his office of Chancellor, but on the condition that More come down to earth.  "Until you do, you and I are enemies."

As More arrives back home, his guest, the young Richard of Cambridge, is there waiting for him.  He reminds More that he said he had a job for him.  More says yes, he does have a position for Richard.  He can be a teacher in the new school with a house, a servant and 50 pounds a year.  Richard is very disappointed, but More explains that no one is going to give him a place at court.  The young fellow says the Cardinal's private secretary, Cormwell, says he can get him a place at court.  More tells him that if he has the support of Cromwell, he doesn't need the support of Thomas More. 

More is not happy to hear that Master Roper has come to see More's daughter, Lady Margaret.  Margaret tells her father that Will wants to marry her.  Father replies:  "Well, he can't marry you."  Roper objects saying he has been called to the bar.   Thomas replies that the answer will always be no to Roper as long as he's a heretic.  Roper has sided with Martin Luther and the Protestants.  Father doesn't like Lutherans.   He mentions the possible marriage to his wife and she too is opposed to the idea.

Four horsemen ride through the snow.  One of the men of the group announces:  "The Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England."  The Duke comes in and takes away the golden necklace used by the dying Cardinal Wolsey.  He tells Wolsey:  "Thank God you're dying here.  The King would have you die in the Tower."

Sir Thomas More is made Lord Chancellor of the Realm.  He is given the huge necklace that belongs to the person who is the Lord Chancellor.  Many boats are seen on the Thames heading toward Thomas More's place.  The King is coming for a visit.   Henry wants More's answer on his divorce.  Margaret says her father already gave the King his answer.  The local Duke says:  "He wants another." 

Out on the lawn, Henry talks with Thomas.  Henry says Wolsey recommended Thomas for the Chancellor position.    He goes on to say that Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor failed him.  Henry denounces the secret villainy of his former Chancellor.

Henry asks if Thomas has thought this situation through and come to see it as the King sees it?  Basically, Thomas' answer is no.  Henry screams:  "Then you haven't thought enough!"  He cools off a bit and says that he has lived in incest with his brother's widow (Catherine).  It was a sin and God has punished him for it.  Catherine has not borne him a living male heir.  He has to divorce Catherine and no Pope is going to stand in his way. 

Thomas tries to get himself off the hot seat.  He says he is not the right person to be deciding this kind of matter: divorce.  And why is the King so concerned about getting Thomas' personal support for his demands?  Henry says because everyone knows that Thomas More is an honest, sincere man.  He is flattering Thomas, but adds at the end:  "I'll have no opposition."

Everyone in the banquet hall is listening to Henry's tirades.   Thomas looks worried. 

Henry says they will go into eat, but when he realizes that it is already 8 o'clock, he says he has to get going.   The tide will be turning and if he doesn't catch the tide, he will not be able to get back to Richmond in time.  He tells Lady Alice that he has to go.  Business at the court calls him away.  Now all the men race for the boats to go back with King Henry. 

Alice is mad telling her husband that he crossed the King.  Thomas tells her to mind her house!  She says that she is minding her house!

Cromwell tells Richard that he thinks Richard should come with him, but Richard says no. 

Roper and Margaret speak to her father again.  The man says that he has modified his beliefs.  He is still critical of the Catholic Church, but he does not agree with an attack upon the Church herself.  He sees behind such attacks the Devil's work to be done by the Devil's ministers!  Thomas warns Roper not to go on, because as Chancellor there are certain opinions he cannot hear.  Richard of Cambridge comes in and asks Thomas to help him.  He wants Thomas to employ him.  Now Thomas says no.  So Richard says that Cromwell has been grilling people for information about the new Chancellor.  He has asked Richard many times and he gets information from the Chancellor's servant Matthew.  But Thomas just doesn't trust Richard at all anymore.  His family thinks Thomas should arrest Richard because he is a dangerous man.  Thomas refuses to do this. 

At night, Rich goes to a tavern to speak with Cromwell.  Master Cromwell says that Sir Thomas Paget is retiring and he, Cromwell, will succeed him as Secretary to the Council.  And there is another post vacant:  the Collector of Revenues for York.  What Cromwell wants from Richard is for him to testify in court that Thomas More gave him a silver chalice that was given to More as a bribe by a litigant in a case before the Court of Requests. 

A representative of King Henry VIII comes to speak to the Lord Archbishop, the lords and Reverend Doctors of the Church.  Henry demands "your pretended allegiance to the See of Rome".   "And admit the statute passed through Parliament acknowledging the King's good title 'Supreme Head of the Church in England'."

Sir Thomas More resigns from the post of Chancellor.   Lady Alice is mad at her husband for his decision, saying that he is not living up to his abilities.  The local Duke also disagrees with More's resignation.  He says that this act smacks of cowardice.  More admits that he is afraid that Henry is mounting a war against the Pope. 

More has to cut his household staff down to fit his now smaller budget.  The staff has to go, but:  "No one will be turned away from here until we've found another place for him."  He tells Matthew that he will miss him. 

More tells his wife that he will remain silent on all the rest of the key steps to be made to divorce Henry and make him the head of the Church of England.  Silence will be his best defense against any charges to be brought against him by others.   Lady Alice says this is a dangerous matter, but More doesn't think so as long as he expresses no opinions on the important matters of the day.

More is a bit innocent about his situation.  Cromwell says what More doesn't realize:  "This silence of his is bellowing up and down Europe.  In Europe, he is claimed as the King's enemy."  Therefore, they will need from More a brief declaration of his loyalty to the present administration.  The King will demand this of More.  Cromwell says they will bring pressure down on More.  He has Richard bring in a woman named Averil Machin from Leicester.  She brought a property case in the Court of Requests in April 1528.  And she gave a bribe of a silver chalice worth 100 shillings.  The woman will not be the witness.  Rather Richard will testify as the silver chalice was given to Richard by More. 

More's friend the Duke says Thomas dropped the bribe in the gutter because the man doesn't take bribes.  Cromwell tells the Duke that the King is making the Duke get involved in this matter on the King's side.  So he suggests that the Duke try to convince Thomas More to come to the King's wedding to Anne Boleyn. 

Thomas More does not show up at the wedding.  A messenger is send to More's place.  He gives the message to Lady Margaret who is dressed more as a peasant than a lady.  And their house only has a few pieces of furniture in its rooms.  The messenger says that her father will have to answer to charges against him before Secretary Cromwell.

Sir Thomas visits with Secretary Cromwell and Richard.  Cromwell says:  "The King is not pleased with you."  If More will agree with the many new changes, the King will bestow great honors on Sir Thomas More. More is not interested, so Cromwell presents two charges against Sir Thomas.  Thomas has answers and evidence to prove his innocence in these cases.  He is asked what he thinks of the King's new marriage?  Thomas says he understood that he was not to be asked that question again.  So, now the full wrath of Henry VIII is to descend on More.

More tries to go home by boat, but no boatman will give him a boat ride.  Thomas sees his friend, Duke Howard, and asks for his assistance.  Howard, however, is upset with More for being so stubborn.  He asks More:  "Why must you stand out?"  He feels that his friendship with More threatens to effect his own life.  So More says for friendship's sake, they will end the friendship right now.  He starts denouncing Howard and all the men like him who gave into Henry's demands.  More's accusations get nastier and nastier until Howard swings wildly at Thomas and Thomas takes a dive. 

Cromwell announces that the King is going to chase down a group of traitors hostile to him and England.    That is a chilling threat. 

Thomas has to walk home because he couldn't get a boat.  Meg greets him and tells him there's a new act going through Parliament.  They are going to administer an oath about the recent marriage.  Those who won't take the oath will be guilty of high treason.  Dad wants to know from Susan the exact wording of the oath, for it may be possible for him to take it. 

Thomas can't or won't take the oath as written.  So to the tower he goes.  Several seasons pass by.  Then one night they move Thomas to Richmond Palace.  He has to sit before three judges, one being Duke Howard and another being Cromwell.  The third judge is the archbishop.  Duke Howard says that this is the Seventh Commission to inquire into the case of Sir Thomas More.  There's a lot of banter back and forth and More is very clever, but it just brings him closer to a death sentence. 

More gets a brief visit from his nuclear family.  Margaret asks her father to swear to the Act and come out of jail.  They only got permission to visit father after agreeing to try to convince him to give up his obstinacy and sign the Act.  But none of the family is a match for the arguments of Sir Thomas More.  He does says that sometimes people have to act as heroes to stand up against the bullies. 

Thomas tells his family to leave England for somewhere else.  Roper and Meg agree to it, but Lady Alice will not.  Thomas asks Alice to at least say that she understands his reasons for his actions in this matter.  Alice says she doesn't understand.  None of this need never happened.  Thomas says if she says this, then it will be hard for him to face death when the time comes.  She says what she's afraid of is that after her husband's death, she shall hate him for it.  He tells her that she mustn't.  But Alice does give him some good hugs before she is forced to leave by the jailer. 

Thomas has to appear before three more judges.  He is charged with refusing to take the oath, thereby, denying King Henry VII's right title as Head of the Church of England.  Thomas says he chose to remain silent on the issue and is punished for that with imprisonment.  The charge is really one of high treason and the punishment for that is death.  Cromwell says that Thomas is confusing refusing to sign with silence on the matter.  That dog won't hunt.  Thomas says that in the law, silence is taken as consent, so they must legally assume that Thomas More's silence is also consent.  Cromwell says More is pretending that this is what the world assumes too. 

Richard testifies to a little debate he had with the accused.  He says that More denied the title of Head of the Church of England.  More says that Richard has perjured himself.  Without any deliberation period, the jury finds More guilty. 

More then gives a speech on his true thoughts. 

More has his head chopped off.

"Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitor's Gate for a month.  Then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it till her death.  Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More.  The Archbishop was burned at the stake.  The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the King died of syphilis the night before.  Richard Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed."


Many years ago I saw this film and didn't like it.  Hated it, in fact.  As I write up the film summary, I don't hate it as much, but I still don't like it.  I would have taken the oath even if I opposed it, considering that the punishment was death by having my head cut off.  Governments are always doing stupid and evil things.  That's what happens, but I would not sacrifice my head to oppose the thousands of evils committed by tyrants or religious fanatics.  I would live to fight another day.  Governments come and governments go. 

More was a bit of a cheap trickster with his debates.  He says things that make him appear reasonable.  He denies he wants to be a martyr, but his actions speak louder than his protests.  He says that sometimes men like him must appear to look like heroes.  What More did was to become a martyr for a cause.  More was a religious bigot, saying that there is only one way to worship God.  His message is too narrow and conservative to be a progressive thinker.  The Protestants arose out of the abuses in the Catholic Church.   But shouldn't men have the right to worship as they will?  Certainly the Catholic Church did not think this way.  There was terrible religious conflicts and wars to try to prevent further Protestant advancement.  Thousands of people died in these conflicts in the name of religion.  And let's not forget the Inquisition launched against "heretics".  

More was much too narrow of a thinker to really respect.  And he certainly had no real understanding for his family when they failed to understand Sir Thomas More. They virtually begged him to take the oath and save himself and the family.  No, I don't think More was a sympathetic character.  He thought too highly of himself and his ability to debate.  And no really good arguments were brought up by the prosecutors for the man to have to think more broadly than he was used to thinking.  So the debate in a sense, was too weak to really respect.  A straw man's argument against a thread man's argument. 

When a government really wants someone out of their way, they will get that person out of their way, one way or the other.  Even if they have to kill the person. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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