Today is the feast of 2 English martyrs, St John Fisher & the more well known St. Thomas More. They were martyred in 1535 (Fisher 22 June, More 6 July) for refusing to support Henry VIII in his quest to divorce his 1st wife. Both these men are fine examples of what it means to properly live your faith in the public sector. Unlike many pro-abortion Catholic politicians of today.
St. John Fisher was bishop of Rochester. He had a long relationship with the royal family including tutoring a youg Henry VIII. When he supported the validity of the marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he was imprisioned for 14 months. In prison he was made a cardinal.
St. Thomas More is much more well known. In 1966 a movie version of the 1961 play A Man for All Seasons was made. It is a movie that is well worth seeing.
The film was produced & directed by Fred Zinnemann & released by Columbia Pictures. The movie begins with Cardinal Wolsey dispatching a message calling Thomas More to come to him at once. When More arrives they debate the divorce. Wolsey takes a pragmatic stand & is willing to compromise his faith. More takes the moral stand & refuses any compromise if it means risking betraying his Catholic faith. Later as Wolsey lays dying he realizes how wrong he was. His final words are an admission that he didn't serve God half as well as he did the king.
More becomes the next chancellor, a position that Fisher was once rumored to be in line for. & from the start More & Henry battle each other. After the Parliament declares Henry head of the Church in England More resigns. He hopes to retire quietly & refuses to even tell his wife Alice, daughter Meg or anyone else his exact feelings about the events.
But Cromwell decides that More's support is needed, esp with the way his silence is speaking throughout Europe. Eventually More is arrested, tried & convicted of treason & beheaded. More's final statement is "I die his Majesty's good servant but God's first."
This is a very short summary of the movie. I will look at some scenes in looking at certain roles.
Paul Scofield plays Thomas More. He plays More as a thinker. His More keeps his emotions in check for the most part. At times this makes More seem a little less than human. But it serves to show that More wasn't being swayed by them either.
We get the best glimpses of the inner More when he is dealing with his daughter Meg (Susannah York). This is esp true when the 2 of them are alone. He lets Meg see more of his inner self, parts that he even reserves from his wife Alice (Wendy Hiller). But it is clear he loved her as well.
Several scenes make it clear that More is doing his best to protect his family & friends from any fallout of his refusal to support henry.
1 of the best scenes in the early part of the movie is his talk with Henry VIII. Henry is perfectly captured by Robert Shaw. This is 1 of several great roles that Shaw had over his acting career. Shaw played the psychopath Red Grant in From Russia With Love 3 years earlier. In 1973 he played crime boss Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting. Shaw gets across Henry's self-importance perfectly. He portrays Henry's doubts as sincere. As you watch him asking for More's help you have to wonder how Henry can be so sincere in his beliefs here & yet already having the affair with Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave in an early role). The only answer is henry's ego has him so blinded that whatever he does must be right.
Another scene where Scofeld holds his own is when he meets with Wolsey. Orson Welles plays him as a man of power who knows the extent of his power, at least temporally. You can see why More's family derides him as the son of a butcher. to some extend he is one.
Another scene where we really see the heart of More is where he shows his son-in-law Will Roper (Corin Redgrave) the importance of the law as a protection against evil.
2 other performances of note are provided by Leo McKern as Cromwell & a young John Hurt as Richard Rich.
Rich is shown as a man who has some morals, but is willing to sell them to the highest bidder. & More sees that from the start. More tries to direct him away from politics knowing this flaw. But Rich refuses. Later, Rich betrays More to Cromwell. For a moment Rich has a twinge of conscience & Hurt gets that across excellently. Later at his trial, when More finds out that Rich was rewarded for his purjury by a political appointment. In 1 of More's most scathing lines he tells Rich "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?" Rcih could easily be portrayed as a characature of an oportunistist. Hurt makes him a human being who is flawed & those flaws are why he falls.
Finally we get to 1 of my favorite character actors of the 60s t0 90s, Leo McKern. (As an aside, his 1st movie role was as a knight in the 51 version of Murder in the Cathedral about St. Thomas Becket who stood up to another english King.) I 1st saw McKern as a villian in A Hard Day's Night. McKern was eqaully able to play comedy & dramatic roles, villians & good guys. He really came to my attention as Number 2 in 3 episodes of The Prisoner. Later he went on to be THE Horace Rumpole in the BBC adaptation of Rumpole of the Bailey.
McKern captures Cromwell. It isn't a large role, but it is a key one. McKern presents him as sly, ever on the watch for things that can help him in his quest for power. Cromwell is gentle when needed. But even there you can see the underlying reality of why Cromwell is doing what he is.
There are some historical inaccuracies. 1 came about due to the limitations of a 2 hr film. In addition to Meg, More had 3 other children, 1 son 2 daughters, by his 1st wife. Alice had a daughter from her 1st marriage. There are also many small but accurate details that add to the richness of the movie. The flag on the boat from Cardinal Wolsey has the coat of arms properly displayed for a cardinal. The seal was also accurately duplicated. Other little things, like More saying night prayers with his family before going to see Wolsey show how much his faith was a part of his life. & that he lived it publicly.
The DVD also has a 20 minute bio of Thomas More that covers much of what was omited in the play & movie.
As I said at the start, I recomend this movie. It presents us with what a civil servant should be like. It can be summed up in a line that More says to Wolsey to explain why he won't go along: " I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos. " Most of our current crop of elected officials would do well to learn from this.