…and the quest to see everything

A Man for All Seasons

I’ve presented my Jesus freak side before or in other words, I’m sure my ambivalence towards my provenance has seeped into my blog especially when discussing religious movies. That important factor in my life makes me hesitant in fully embracing Robert Bolt‘s play A Man for All Seasons. Again, I’m crudely comparing the first cracks of this Renaissance-era schism to its counterpart across the pond. The American Civil War was formally about ‘the power struggle between the federation and its states but really it was about slavery. In that same vein, the play masquerades its main crisis that it’s about the protagonist, English Lord Chancellor Thomas More (Paul Scofield), and that he should be able to pledge allegiance to his religion over his country. But it’s really about calling his king King Henry VIII’s (Robert Shaw) and adulterer and his new seventeen-year-old wife Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave in a silent but nuanced performance) a whore. I read the play as part of my Catholic high school curriculum – I don’t remember our class performing it and in my mind all actors had the right to defend their own stance as the correct one. But Fred Zinneman‘s movie adaptation feels so one-sided. This is especially true in casting Henry and let’s be honest: if a director tells Shaw (charming and handsome as he is and what is wrong with me?) to yell and be a boor it’s not like he’s going to say no. I can only imagine Seth MacFarlane being inspired by Shaw’s performance in portraying Peter Griffin’s real Irish dad.

But I do like the lawyer-like talk in vogue for the movie second half. There’s a subplot about John Hurt’s character where the visuals do the storytelling and another one on More’s daughter’s marriage to a man who is against any religious institution, a postmodern touch to a traditional landscape. Scofield and Wendy Hiller, who plays his wife, are more subtle in the delivery of their flowery lines than I remember, the former earning that Oscar especially in the last scenes, where he has to bellow his last thoughts without overacting. It’s a fascinating look towards the Medieval/Renaissance struggle from a mid-twentieth century lens, the latter grappling with its own changing stances towards morality.

Advertisements

2 responses

  1. Oddly, I don’t remember finding Shaw and the portrayal of Henry to be one-sided. I just remember him being brash and childish which amused me much. I love (?) this one, it really works, Scofield sings but ugh he didn’t earn that Oscar. GIVE IT BACK TO RICHARD BURTON YOU THIEF!!!!

    Over and out.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:22 am

  2. Another reason I thought it was one-sided is because the dialogue between Thomas and Henry were supposed to make Henry have an equally valid interpretation of scripture. Bt instead Shaw and Zinneman just made him seem boorish. Or maybe I just have a contemporary (read: comatose/mumblecore) definition of acting that made me think Shaw’s Henry was too much.

    It’s apples and oranges between Scofield and Burton. I have to rewatch Woolf although that would make it the third time.

    June 14, 2012 at 2:11 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s