A Man For All Seasons (1966)

Entertainment Rating: 4 of 5

It seemed that this film probably used the same script the play used, so the movie wasn’t terribly visually engaging, but the dialog was intense. I wasn’t even aware of this film (unless it’s one that I fell asleep watching for English extra credit in high school) until I read Orson Scott Card’s list of favorite movies, and this one was number one. While A Man For All Seasons still isn’t better than On the Waterfront (still my favorite), it is pretty darn good.

Moral Rating: 5 of 5

The story is supposedly a little one-sided when it comes to historical accuracy (portraying Thomas as a saint, and not displaying any of his negative attributes); even so, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the positive and not be distracted or discouraged by any negative truths that might make the history more accurate.  By trying to live our lives according to a pattern of perfection we can expect to become closer to perfect than if we attempt to live according to a skewed pattern of “less-than-perfect” truths. (For more on patterns of perfection check out this address.)  The same goes with only showing the virtues of somebody, instead of revealing his faults as well.  In some instances the faults make the person/hero more human, more able to relate to, while without faults or weaknesses the hero doesn't seem to be one of us or someone who we could ever dream of becoming like unto.  Only focusing on positive traits is good.

I don’t know that I can adequately summarize the plethora of moral messages presented in the film. The primary one expresses the importance of having standards and not bending them for anything or anyone, no matter the cost.  One of my favorite scenes occurs after Richard Rich leaves the presence of Thomas, his wife, daughter and son-in-law after the King’s “surprise” visit.  Roper, Thomas’s son-in-law, asks if Thomas is not going to prevent Richard from leaving back to the scheming Cromwell.  Rich could very easily cause a lot of trouble for More's family, but More doesn't have any proof that that is what will happen and so he can't really be detained legally.  Roper compares letting Rich go to letting the Devil go, and mocks Thomas’s defense of doing so because of the “law” (emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence for which to detain Rich). The following dialog ensues:
William Roper: [addressing Thomas] So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Another remarkable scene occurs earlier in the film when More tries to convince Rich (when More still had some influence over him) to become a teacher, worrying about his potential to be corrupted if he pursued a position with the State:
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
Later, Thomas is approached by Norfolk, a close “friend”, who sincerely wishes Thomas to give in and accept the King’s marriage as lawful. Everyone in England has been required to sign a statement saying they support the King in his marriage or else be thrown in prison. Norfolk tries to appeal to a non-existent desire in Thomas to be accompanied by “friends” in tough situations.
Norfolk: Oh, confound all this.... I'm not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names.... You know those men! Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?
More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
I could go on with plenty more scenes I enjoyed, but you'll just have to take my word for it and treat yourself to an educational and enlightening movie.  Your local library should have a copy of it, or you can check Netflix.

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