A Man for All Seasons by Fred Zinnemann
On one of the forums I frequent, a topic popped up about the greatest male role models in film history. One reponse in particular caught my eye concerning this film, which retells the story of Sir Thomas More, an advisor to King Henry VIII. When Henry’s wife is unable to produce a male heir, he seeks a divorce to remarry. The Pope refuses to grant his approval, so Henry rebels against the Church, setting up a national church that he can control. More, one of the king’s most trusted advisors, opposes Henry’s move and withdraws from service, hoping his silence will keep him and his family safe — only to get arrested on trumped up charges.
The part of the original post that caught my eye was this, that More was “a man who loved his king, his country, his wife and daughter, his Church, and his God, more or less in that order, from least to greatest.” You see this played out time and again in this wonderful movie, as More constantly struggles to reconcile his many duties and responsibilities.
It’s clear that More loves his king and country — even while under threat of arrest, he forbids others from speaking ill of the king, and of the laws of the land — and yet he knows his allegiance ultimately belongs to a higher authority. And More’s scenes with his wife and daughter are quite moving, especially when he embraces his wife for the last time in his prison cell. His wife, worn down by the stress of her husband’s imprisonment, lashes out at him and his high ideals, to which More takes her in his arms and proclaims, with wonder, “I married a lionness!”
The movie’s dialog is some of the richest I’ve heard in a long time, the performances are excellent (Paul Scofield is wonderful as the noble yet tortured More, and as Henry VIII, Robert Shaw roars and rampages like a lion), the sets and landscape are all gorgeous, and even though there’s not a lick of action, More finally confronting his accusers in the courtroom is as great a final showdown as you’ll ever see.
This film hits me on another level as well, as I look at my reactions to the U.S. government. In the past, I’ve been pretty vocal about my disagreements and disgust with the current administration. Like More, I think they have often acted in a very unconscionable manner, especially in the past few weeks. Like More, I also have to realize that they are my leaders, that for some reason, they have been granted authority, which I must respect at the very least. And yet, I also must realize that my allegiance doesn’t ultimately end with the American flag, but belongs to something much higher, and it is to that authority that I will be ultimately held accountable.