Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

“As Fine a Slice of 16th Century Political Intrigue As You Can Get”

Fred Zinnemann’s excellent film version of Robert Bolt’s play about the political and religious intrigues that led to the execution of Sir Thomas More gets a dual format UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Eureka.

         England, 1530: King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) is married to Katherine of Aragon but wants a divorce as she is ‘barren as a brick’ according to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Orson Welles). When the cardinal dies he names Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) as his successor as Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately Sir Thomas is a staunch Roman Catholic, refuses to support King Henry’s wishes, and when the monarch makes himself head of the church in England refuses to accept that as well.

Needless to say the king is displeased, and plans are made to discredit and despatch Sir Thomas. Unfortunately for everyone, More is not just honest and conscientious, he also happens to be well trained in the law, and thus begins a lengthy stay in the Tower of London, culminating in his trial for high treason.

         Historical movies are always a bit of a juggling act between avoiding going full Cecil B DeMille in an attempt to keep an audience interested, and getting your facts right. Faced with both this challenge and the fact that A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS was originally a play, Zinnemann did all the right things in getting Bolt to adapt his own script, breaking up the dialogue scenes with some interesting, almost dreamlike visuals (I especially liked his obsession with showing old buildings reflected in water) and, of course, recruiting a bunch of top-notch actors to keep those dialogue scenes interesting (the above plus Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport and a young John Hurt amongst others). 

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS deservedly won six Academy Awards (film, director, best actor for Scofield, screenplay, photography for Ted Moore and costumes  for Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge) and possibly deserved more - the music by Georges Delerue is sparse but effective, with the same lyrical quality as some of the imagery, especially the opening titles.

Eureka’s Blu-ray looks excellent, and we get a number of extras, including a feature length commentary from film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Lem Dobbs, a thirty minute highly informative talking head piece from Neil Sinyard, a documentary on Thomas More from 2007 if you want to know a bit more about him, and a booklet with new writing on the film from James Oliver. 

The dual format Blu-ray and DVD release of Fred Zinnemann's A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is out from Eureka on Monday 20th February 2017

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