NEXT TIME AN OPERA
Writer Robert Bolt used in A Man For All Seasons a close substitute for melodic verse—sometimes the recorded-on-paper words of Sir Thomas More himself—that could satisfy an audience hungry for the sounds of righteousness. We wouldn’t be tempted to call the Bolt heaps a litterateur’s arias—as we would, say, about Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood and James Joyce’s The Dead—but they’re long distant cousins to those kinds of compositions. Yet the heaps aren’t really gratifying because those we get feel truncated; just as Paul Scofield’s More starts to soar, he gets cut short of the resounding ethics made immortal by the axe. But the abridgement is built in: Lest we forget, the critical distinction between the intent of Bolt’s rigged libretto and what we feel about More’s intransigence is that More committed to the chopping block without acknowledging it as an act of extreme egocentricity; with his fate sealed, he sacrificed his powerful thorniness to Henry VIII as a guarantee of immortality, both for history and sanctimony’s sake. While some historians posit that More’s humanist scholasticism forbade him to consider martyrdom, it’s indisputable that in his unwillingness to compromise with his conscience for fear of endangering his soul, he was creating the gifts of opportunity for his Church to exploit him—as a scandal to England and of course to cover up some legendary corruption of the Vatican (which this movie’s More conveniently ignores). When Henry, breaking his promise never to “molest” More’s conscience, sent him to the Tower, it wasn’t the Renaissance layman’s death that Rome initially and violently responded to, it was the beheading of one of its princes—John Cardinal Fisher, about whom this movie says virtually nothing. (Both Fisher and More would be beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized in 1935 by Pius XI.) Scofield earned a slew of awards for his portrait—honors more rightly belonging to Richard Burton that year—and for a brief time there’s an amusement in his omniscience, but on the whole it’s a smuggy performance. Listening to him wage moral war against all those ever-expanding violations of God’s laws, it’s More as a pharisaic don. Wendy Hiller as Lady Alice is quite moving. Fred Zinnemann directs with an overload of simple-mindedness. No greater proof of this than Leo McKern as Cromwell. Imagine the kind of solo he’d get at the Met. The movie was not given the full “reserved seat” treatment. Most major cities had a two or three shows per day, with souvenir booklets available. In Spherical.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.