A Movie That Feels As Long As All Seasons
A Man For All Seasons is directed by Fred Zinnemann and is based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name. The film stars Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw, and Susannah York. The film won six Oscars in total, winning Best Director and Best Actor along with Best Picture.
One thing I do after I watch these older Best Picture winners is that I search out every other possible review of the films I can find, because I want to have absolute certainty that it's not just me and that I'm not the only one in the world who expresses disapproval for far too many of these movies. Let's get one thing clear, if it wasn't clear enough from several of my earlier reviews of these Best Picture winners: far too many of these older Best Picture winners are dated, and I mean really, really, REALLY dated. Earlier winners like Grand Hotel, How Green Was My Valley, and Tom Jones have absolutely no appeal to modern day audiences, merely existing in history as products of their times and being heavily overshadowed by the Best Picture winners that are timeless gems and still have at least an ounce of appeal to modern day audiences. Why is this true? Because the Forgettable Best Picture winners - that's a phrase I find myself coming back to time and time again, so keep expecting to see it whenever I'm reviewing a bad Best Picture winner - deal with stories and characters, particularly historical ones, that just don't appeal to a mass market.
Let us apply this reasoning to the 1966 Best Picture winner, Fred Zinnemann's A Man For All Seasons, to further drive the point home. Here is a Best Picture winner taking place in 16th century England, concerning the life of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), the Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw). More sends shock waves throughout England when he refuses to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the marriage of King Henry and Catherine of Aragon. More also refuses to take what is called an Oath of Supremacy, which would declare King Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Several others push More to change his mind, including the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern), but More refuses to budge. More's reputation eventually begins to go into a downward spiral, resulting in him being imprisoned and later brought to trial.
A movie taking place in the 1500's that addresses a historical issue intersecting religion and politics: yes, this is absolutely the kind of movie that people want to be watching and talking about in the year 2018, and one that would definitely have the potential to rack up MCU-level box office numbers if it were released today. Okay, let's be serious now: no studio executive in their right mind today would green light a movie like this, not unless they have a couple million bucks they are willing to throw away. The only people that can find appeal in this movie today are history-obsessed Catholics and passionate English historians, and in this day and age, I refuse to believe such a specific niche market is worth targeting. To simply put it, A Man For All Seasons, like too many of its Best Picture predecessors, is an annoyingly tedious feature that doesn't pack enough punch to be the least bit memorable.
- The only thing you might possibly remember from A Man For All Seasons is an undeniably stellar performance from its lead man in Paul Scofield, portraying a Thomas More who remains as stately as can be, no matter how much others berate him for his decision to deny King Henry's annulment. It's a convincing performance, even if it's one that doesn't require any kind of heated emotion. The one person that does display clear, heated emotion is Robert Shaw, portraying a King Henry VIII who shows to have a sense of humor when he accidentally steps into a thing of mud and gets his feet all dirty. He also yelps very loudly and passionately at More about his decision to deny the annulment, something of an alarm clock if you were half asleep by that point (and if you were, I don't blame you one bit). A strong lead actor in a boring Best Picture winner has been, and will continue to be, a recurring trend. Watch out.
- Biographical films are my least favorite kind of films, mainly because I find these films to be the most susceptible to boredom. My personal pick for the number one, most important rule for a movie is to engage the viewer, because don't you watch a movie with the hopes of getting at least something out of it? With biographical films, especially those that cover specific events within a historical person's life, you can get pretty much the exact same information by reading a book or an article on that person. With a movie, your hopes are that the events covered are dramatized enough so that you can still feel like you've been educated by the time the end credits begin and perhaps feel like you got a miniature rush of enjoyment too.
Such hopes do not exist for A Man For All Seasons. I won't deny that the movie is intelligent and suggest that it is historically inaccurate. But I will suggest that the movie lacks enough interesting conversations between its characters in order to hold your interest for a full two hours. I will also suggest that the movie misses out on a golden opportunity: Thomas More's decision to resist King Henry's requested annulment is played out with the tension of a man whose life is about to fall apart similar to that of The Hunt with Mads Mikkelsen. After a fairly energetic conversation between King Henry and More, the movie becomes just one boring conversation after another, driving your interest straight down the toilet.
Do you ever wonder why Best Picture winners like A Man For All Seasons that feature no memorable quotes are never brought up when we're talking about the greatest films to ever win Best Picture? Because on top of having nothing memorable about them, those winners are also horribly dated, and lack the honor of timelessness that select winners like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca were able to capture so well back in the day. Any and all complaints that I have about A Man For All Seasons revolve around the fact that the movie is utterly boring and has not one single thing that I can possibly recommend to someone who hasn't seen it. It's a movie trapped in its own time period with no hopes of escaping. Whoever said the Oscars were flawless?
Recommend? No. There's nothing to get out of this movie.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: