• A Man For All Seasons



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: May 12
    Director: Fred Zinnemann
    Cast: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport, John Hurt, Corin Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Vanessa Redgrave
    Year: 1966
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    The Movie:

    Sir Thomas More was a Catholic lawyer, writer, and philosopher of the humanist school who served as Lord Chancellor under King Henry VIII. A highly respect religious and social scholar during much of his lifetime, More’s fortunes changed when he refused to publicly support Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. It had been through Papal dispensation that Henry had been allowed to marry Catherine—his deceased older brother’s wife—in the first place, and when the current Pope refused to consent to divorce, Henry broke from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England, with the King as its supreme earthly sovereign. This didn’t sit well with More, who had long been a supporter of the church; he refused to attend the Queen’s coronation, which greatly upset the King and led to More being charged with accepting bribes. Due to lack of evidence, however, the case was dismissed, but it was the first of several. Finally, after refusing to sign the parliamentary Act of Succession, which in part declared the King of England head over the nation’s spiritual matters, More was convicted of treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. The jury had been stacked against him from the start and included the Queen’s father, brother, and uncle, as well as others opposed to More. Taking pity on More, the King commuted his execution to decapitation, and More was put to death in the place where he had been imprisoned, the infamous Tower of London.

    A Man for All Seasons began life as a BBC radio play written by Robert Bolt and first performed in 1954; three years later it was adapted to television as an hour-long drama starring Bernard Hepton in the lead role of Thomas More. It proved successful enough that Bolt rewrote the work as a stage play, where it attained an even higher level of popularity. It opened at the famous Globe Theatre in London on July 1, 1960, and eventually moved to Broadway, where its star, Paul Scofield, won a Tony Award for Best Actor. In 1965, it was adapted by producer/director Fred Zinnemann to the big screen and released the following year. While More’s life was rich with incident, the story focused almost solely on his later years, his refusal to sign the Act of Succession, and his subsequent imprisonment and trial.

    While the film adaptation and the play on which it is based are fairly accurate in terms of historicity, they do present a hagiographic view of a man believed by many to have been himself something of a monster. During his time under Henry VIII, More opposed Protestantism, believing it a heretical challenge to God’s true church. He sought to prevent the works of Martin Luther from entering England, and he imprisoned those found reading such books; his persecution of Protestants was widespread, and he had some of them burnt at the stake. (Strange, given his historic opposition to the death penalty.) Despite this, he was a man of faith who would not be deterred in his beliefs, and in the end he went to his own death a man of integrity; on the scaffold, he is alleged to have said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” For this, he was later canonized by the Catholic Church.

    Despite its refusal to present More as anything less than perfect, A Man for All Seasons is about as close to perfection as a film can come. Direction, writing, and acting collude to create something truly extraordinary: a historical biopic that is as resonant today as it was when it was first released, a testament to the power of speech and the craft of writing. In fact, the film won a number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design, all of them much deserved. Zinnemann’s direction is invisible, leaving Paul Scofield and the supporting actors (Leo McKern and Wendy Hiller in particular) to carry the picture, a smart move considering just how powerful those performances are. Not a single one comes across as anything less than real, and the dialogue is alternately witty, moving, and intense; the scene in which More is visited in his cell by his wife, daughter, and son-in-law retains its power to move the audience to tears even today. Zinnemann had previously directed such important films as High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), and Oklahoma! (1955), yet those films—as masterful as some of them are—fail to compare to A Man for All Seasons, which makes the latter’s neglected status today all the more nonsensical. The life and death of Sir Thomas More may have been a tragedy of epic proportions, but it certainly provided the fodder for one of the 1960s best films.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    A Man for All Seasons comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in an MPEG-4 AVC encode, in 1080p resolution. The film is presented in 1.66:1, which serves Ted Moore’s cinematography perfectly. Head space has breathing room without seeming too expansive, leaving the claustrophobia of some scenes to come from intentional set design rather than tight framing. Sourced from a recent 4K transfer, fine detail is so sharp as to reveal the edge lines of facial makeup, threads of fabric, lawns of clover, ripples of water, and pocks in the brick of external edifices. Add to this detail a beautiful mix of bright and subdued colors, a palette of browns and grays occasionally dappled by reds, greens, blues, and yellows. Part of the film’s visual power comes from Zinnemann’s decision to shoot the entire film in earthy, realistic tones, with the sets and costumes generally reflecting that, interrupted by striking points of color; the result is an image that is perfectly conducive to the Blu-ray format. Some critics have suggested that skin tones turn to mud at times, but this is never actually the case. Grain is always organic, soft spots are kept to a minimum (amounting to a couple of minutes in a film that runs approximately two hours), and black levels are deep and satisfying. It’s difficult to imagine that a film of this vintage could ever look better.

    The film has been divided into 24 chapters. Given the wealth of breaks, accessing individual scenes is easy.

    As is so often the case with releases from Twilight Time, the disc contains three tracks: the film’s original soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the isolated score in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and an audio commentary in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The original soundtrack is pristine; while it’s true that the film wasn’t originally shot in this format, given its age, the separation of sound effects from dialogue into various channels is done so skillfully that it adds depth and direction without detracting from the score or the dialogue; the dialogue remains easily discernable from the score and the effects. For those who are deaf or hearing impaired, Twilight Time has provided the film with removable English subtitles. As for the aforementioned score, it may sound understated, but you don’t realize how prevalent it is until you listen to it in isolation. It’s heavily influenced by music contemporary to the times in which the film is set, and it provides just the right amount of underscoring to heighten dramatic impact without calling attention to itself. Finally, the audio commentary features film historian Lem Dobbs and Twilight Time’s resident contributors Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. Most of the conversation takes place between Dobbs and Kirgo, with Redman occasionally interjecting interesting facts to steer the conversation one way or another or reacting to the odd fact. Dobbs knows his subject well, often digressing to discuss the backgrounds of the various on- and off-screen participants, while Kirgo easily dissects Zinnemann’s ‘invisible’ direction to reveal just how complex and fascinating it is. What’s most interesting is that no one talks over anyone else; the conversation is clearly planned and controlled, yet it flows so naturally as to seem off the cuff.

    A Man for All Seasons comes complete with the standard Twilight Time extras, which include a theatrical trailer (also remastered in hi-def), running a little over three minutes, and a catalogue of the company’s BD and DVD releases, noting exactly which—at the time of release—have gone into moratorium and which are still available for purchase. Ported over from the DVD is a documentary short about the life of Sir Thomas More; it runs a little over 18 minutes and features interviews with three of More’s most prolific and distinguished historians: Alison Weir, author of the books Henry VIII: The King and His Court and The Six Wives of Henry VIII; Dr. John Guy, author of the works Tudor England and Thomas More; and Dr. Gerard B. Wegemer, Founding Director of The Center for Thomas More Studies. The featurette only mentions the film in passing; its subject of interest is the historical personage of Thomas More.

    Last but certainly not least is Kirgo’s insightful liner notes, which are included as a booklet. Her notes leave no ground unturned and are as interesting for their prose as they are for the information they contain. Interestingly, in writing “Although superbly skilled, A Man for All Seasons is also directorially modest and un-showy,” Kirgo espouses a view perfectly conducive to R!S!P!’s thoughts about the film. Perhaps someday Kirgo will gather her liner notes together, expand them (or not), and publish them as a book on cinema.

    The Final Word:

    A Man for All Seasons is one of the great films of the 1960s, so why it’s been forgotten is something of a mystery. To help rectify that, Twilight Time has brought the film to Blu-ray from a sterling new high-definition transfer that is sharp and colorful. Even better, they’ve ported over “The Life of Saint Thomas More” from the DVD release and provided the film with a highly informative and interesting commentary. It’s yet another in a long line of successes that makes Twilight Time the company to beat in the Blu-ray market.

    Note: This edition of A Man for All Seasons is limited to 3,000 units.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!