A Man for All Seasons (1966 film)

A Man for All Seasons is a 1966 British biographical drama film based on Robert Bolt's 1960 play of the same name and adapted for cinema by Bolt. It was released on 12 December 1966. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann, who had previously directed the films High Noon and From Here to Eternity.

A Man for All Seasons
A Man for All Seasons (1966 movie poster).gif
Directed byFred Zinnemann
Produced byFred Zinnemann
Screenplay byRobert Bolt
Based onA Man for All Seasons
by Robert Bolt
Music byGeorges Delerue
CinematographyTed Moore
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Highland Films
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
12 December 1966 (USA) March 1967 (UK)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$2 million
Box office$28.4 million[2]

The film and play both depict the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who refused both to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII of England's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. Paul Scofield, who had played More in the West End stage premiere, also took the role in the film, starring alongside Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles and Susannah York. Also appearing are Nigel Davenport, Leo McKern, Corin Redgrave and, in one of his earliest screen roles, John Hurt.

A Man for All Seasons was a critical and box-office success. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 39th Academy Awards, while the cast and crew won another five, including Best Director for Zinnemann and Best Actor for Scofield. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama and the BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best British Film.


The title reflects playwright Bolt's portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience, remaining true to his principles and religion under all circumstances and at all times. Bolt borrowed the title from Robert Whittington, a contemporary of More, who in 1520 wrote of him:

More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.[3][4]


The film covers the years 1529 to 1535, during the reign of Henry VIII.

During a private late-night meeting at Hampton Court, Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, chastises More for being the only member of the Privy Council to oppose Wolsey's attempts to obtain from the Pope an annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a marriage that has not produced a male heir. With the annulment, Henry would be able to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he hopes to have such an heir, avoiding the risk of more dynastic wars like the Wars of the Roses. More says that he cannot agree to Wolsey's suggestion that they apply "pressure" on Church property and revenue in England. Unknown to More, the conversation is overheard by Wolsey's aide, Thomas Cromwell.

Returning to his home at Chelsea at dawn, More finds his young acquaintance Richard Rich waiting for his return so as to lobby for a position at Court. More recommends instead that Rich find a job as a teacher. Rich declines More's advice, saying that teaching would offer him little chance to become well known. More finds his daughter Meg chatting with a brilliant young lawyer, William Roper, who announces his desire to marry her. The devoutly Catholic More says he cannot give his blessing as long as Roper remains a Lutheran.

Some time later, Wolsey dies of a heart attack. Henry appoints More Lord Chancellor of England, succeeding Wolsey. The King makes an "impromptu" visit to the More estate and again requests More's support for an annulment, but More remains unmoved as Henry alternates between threats, tantrums, and promises of unbounded royal favour. After the King leaves, Cromwell promises Rich a position at Court in return for damaging information about More.

Roper, learning of More's quarrel with the king, says that his religious views have altered considerably and declares that by attacking the Church, the king has become "the Devil's minister." More is admonishing Roper to be more guarded when Rich arrives, pleading again for a position at Court. When More again refuses, Rich denounces More's steward as a spy for Thomas Cromwell. An unmoved More responds, "Of course, that's one of my servants."

Humiliated, Rich joins Cromwell in attempting to bring More down. Meanwhile, the king has Parliament declare him "Supreme Head of the Church of England" and demands that bishops and Parliament renounce all allegiance to the Pope. More quietly resigns as Lord Chancellor rather than accept the new order. His close friend, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, attempts to draw out his opinions in a friendly private chat, but More knows that the time for speaking openly of such matters is over.

In a meeting with Norfolk, Cromwell implies that More's troubles would be over were he to attend the king's wedding to Anne Boleyn. After More does not, he is summoned again to the royal palace of Hampton Court, where Cromwell has his base. Interrogated, More refuses to answer. Infuriated, Cromwell declares that the king views him as a traitor, but allows him to return home. He must do so on foot, since the boatmen are aware of his political disgrace and unwilling to ferry him.

As More arrives at his house, his daughter Meg informs him that a new oath is being circulated and that all must take it or face charges of high treason. Initially, More says he might be willing to take the oath, depending on its wording. Upon learning that it names the king as Supreme Head of the Church, More refuses to take it and is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

More remains steadfast in his refusal to take the Oath and refuses to explain, knowing that he cannot be convicted if he has not explicitly denied the King's supremacy. A request for new books to read backfires, resulting in the confiscation of the books he has, and Rich removes them from More's cell, providing an opportunity for Rich to gather further information against More.

More says goodbye to his wife Alice, Meg and Roper, urging them not to try to defend him, but to leave the country.

More is finally brought to trial, with Cromwell as prosecuting counsel, but refuses to speak about the marriage or why he will not take the Oath. As an experienced judge, he cites his silence in defence, maintaining that the legal principle is that silence is to be taken as consent. Cromwell calls Rich to testify. Rich says that, when he went to take More's books, More told him he would not take the Oath because Parliament did not have the authority to make the King the Head of the Church. Since under the new legislation such a declaration constitutes treason, the jury convicts More. The judges hand down the common-law sentence for treason: death. It emerges that Rich has been made Attorney General for Wales as a reward for his role.

Upon receiving his death sentence, More denounces the king's Supremacy over the Church as illegal, citing the Biblical foundation for the authority of the Papacy over the Church and declaring the alleged Supremacy of the King repugnant to the legal institutions of all Christendom. More further declares that the Church's immunity to State interference is guaranteed both in Magna Carta and in the King's own coronation oath. As uproar ensues, the judges pronounce the full sentence according to the standard forms: More is remitted to the Tower and condemned to death by beheading.

The scene switches from the court to the scaffold on Tower Hill, where before his execution More observes custom by pardoning and tipping the executioner before declaring, "I die his Majesty's good servant, but God's first." He kneels at the block and the executioner cuts off his head.

A narrator intones an epilogue, listing the subsequent untimely deaths of the major characters, apart from Rich, who "became Chancellor of England, and died in his bed."



Robert Bolt adapted the screenplay himself. The running commentary of The Common Man was deleted and the character was divided into the roles of the Thames boatman, More's steward, an innkeeper, the jailer from the Tower, the jury foreman and the executioner. The subplot involving the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys was also excised. A few minor scenes were added, including Wolsey's death, More's investiture as Chancellor, and Henry's wedding to Anne Boleyn, to cover narrative gaps left by the exclusion of the Common Man.

The Brechtian staging of the final courtroom scene (which depicted the Jury as consisting of the Common Man and several sticks bearing the hats of the various characters he has played) is changed to a more naturalistic setting. Also, while the Duke of Norfolk was the judge both historically and in the play's depiction of the trial, the character of the Chief Justice (Jack Gwillim) was created for the film. Norfolk is still present, but plays little role in the proceedings.


The producers initially feared that Scofield was not a big enough name to draw in audiences, so the producers approached Richard Burton, who turned down the part. Laurence Olivier was also considered, but Zinnemann demanded that Scofield be cast. He played More both in London's West End and on Broadway; the latter appearance led to a Tony Award.

Alec Guinness was the studio's first choice to play Wolsey, and Peter O'Toole its first choice for Henry. Richard Harris was also considered. Bolt wanted film director John Huston to play Norfolk, but he refused. Vanessa Redgrave was originally to have played Margaret, but she had a theatre commitment. She agreed to a cameo as Anne Boleyn on the condition that she not be billed in the part or mentioned in the previews.

To keep the budget at under $2 million, the actors all took salary cuts. Only Scofield, York, and Welles were paid more than £10,000. For playing Rich, his first major film role, John Hurt was paid £3,000. Vanessa Redgrave appeared simply for the fun of it and refused payment.

Leo McKern had played the Common Man in the original West End production of the show, but had been shifted to Cromwell for the Broadway production. He and Scofield are the only members of the cast to appear in both the stage and screen versions of the story. Vanessa Redgrave played Lady Alice in a 1988 remake.

The film is shot in Technicolor.


Box officeEdit

The film was a box office success, making $28,350,000 in the US alone,[2] making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 1966.

Critical receptionEdit

It has received positive reviews from film critics, with an 83% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 7.9/10, based on 40 reviews. The critics' consensus states: "Solid cinematography and enjoyable performances from Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw add a spark to this deliberately paced adaptation of the Robert Bolt play.".[5] A. D. Murphy of Variety wrote: "Producer-director Fred Zinnemann has blended all filmmaking elements into an excellent, handsome and stirring film version of A Man for All Seasons."[6]

Scofield's performance was particularly praised. Kate Cameron of the New York Daily News wrote, "over all these fine performances, including Robert Shaw's opulent, bluff and forceful representation of the king, it is Scofield who dominates the screen with his genteel voice and steadfast refusal to kowtow to the king, even at the expense of his head."[7] Pauline Kael gave the film a more critical review, writing, "There's more than a little of the school pageant in the rhythm of the movie: Though it's neater than our school drama coaches could make it, the figures group and say their assigned lines and move on."[8]

In 1995, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican listed it among the greatest movies of all time.[9] In 1999, British Film Institute named A Man for All Seasons the 43rd greatest British film of all time. In 2008, it came 106th on Empire magazine's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time list.


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] Best Picture Fred Zinnemann Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Paul Scofield Won
Best Supporting Actor Robert Shaw Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Wendy Hiller Nominated
Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Robert Bolt Won
Best Cinematography – Color Ted Moore Won
Best Costume Design – Color Joan Bridge and Elizabeth Haffenden Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Fred Zinnemann Won
Best British Film Won
Best British Actor Paul Scofield Won
Best British Screenplay Robert Bolt Won
Best British Art Direction – Colour John Box Won
Best British Cinematography – Colour Ted Moore Won
Best British Costume Design – Colour Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Fred Zinnemann Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama A Man for All Seasons Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Paul Scofield Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Robert Shaw Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Fred Zinnemann Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Robert Bolt Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Paul Scofield Won[a]
Best Supporting Actor Robert Shaw Won[b]
Laurel Awards Top General Entertainment A Man for All Seasons Won
Top Male Dramatic Performance Paul Scofield Nominated
Top Female Supporting Performance Wendy Hiller Nominated
Moscow International Film Festival[18] Grand Prix Fred Zinnemann Nominated
Special Mention Won
Best Actor Paul Scofield Won
National Board of Review Awards Best Film A Man for All Seasons Won
Top Ten Films Won
Best Director Fred Zinnemann Won
Best Actor Paul Scofield Won
Best Supporting Actor Robert Shaw Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Film A Man for All Seasons 2nd place
Best Actor Paul Scofield 4th place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film A Man for All Seasons Won
Best Director Fred Zinnemann Won
Best Actor Paul Scofield Won
Best Screenplay Robert Bolt Won
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards Best British Screenplay Won

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "A Man for All Seasons (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 December 1966. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for A Man For All Seasons. The Numbers. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  3. ^ Whittinton, R. in The Vulgaria of John Stonbridge and the Vulgaria of Robert Whittinton, ed Beatrice White, Kraus Reprint, 1971, at Google Books. Accessed 10 March 2012.
  4. ^ Cited by O'Connell, M. in A Man for all Seasons: an Historian's Demur from Catholic Dossier 8 No. 2 (March–April 2002), pp. 16–19, at Catholic Education Resource Center
  5. ^ A Man for All Seasons. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
  6. ^ Murphy, A.D. (13 December 1966). "Review: 'A Man For All Seasons'". Variety. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  7. ^ "A Man for All Seasons": 1966 review. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  8. ^ Film Classic: "A Man for All Seasons" (February 25, 1967). Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  9. ^ "Marking Centennial of Cinema, Vatican Names 45 Best Films". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013
  10. ^ Sinyard, Neil (28 June 2010). Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience. McFarland Publishing. p. 179. ISBN 9780786481729.
  11. ^ Phillips, Gene D. (1999). Major Film Directors of the American and British Cinema. Lehigh University Press. p. 122. ISBN 9780934223591.
  12. ^ Reuters; AP (21 March 2008). "Oscar-winning actor Paul Scofield dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  13. ^ Bergman, Paul; Asimow, Michael (2006). Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 51. ISBN 9780740754609.
  14. ^ Leslie, Roger (26 June 2017). Oscar’s Favorite Actors: The Winningest Stars (and More Who Should Be). McFarland Publishing. p. 195. ISBN 9781476669564.
  15. ^ Stelter, Ryan (31 March 2019). "TryLight's A Man for All Seasons mirrors the modern world". Leader Post. Postmedia Network Inc. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  16. ^ Franks, Don (3 December 2014). Entertainment Awards: A Music, Cinema, Theatre and Broadcasting Guide, 1928 through 2003 (3rd ed.). McFarland Publishing. p. 236. ISBN 9781476608068.
  17. ^ "Costume Design Oscar Winners 1948 – 2000". Variety.com. Penske Business Media, LLC. 19 March 2002. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  18. ^ "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2012.

External linksEdit