Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Man For All Seasons (1966)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Man For All Seasons (1966, UK)

In Fred Zinnemann's Best Picture-winning film of Richard Bolt's adaptation of his own play:

  • the main plot: the continuing strength and courage of Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More (Oscar-winning Paul Scofield) - after King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England; More, a devout Catholic, refused on principle to sign the Act of Succession and would not take the Oath of Supremacy that would grant permission to the King to divorce his own elder brother Arthur's widow - his barren wife Catherine of Aragon; Henry was intent on having a wife bear a male heir to continue his dynastic reign, so he set his sights on marrying mistress Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave)
  • the "Give the Devil Benefit of Law" scene - More's reverential defense of the law toward brilliant lawyer William Roper (Corin Redgrave), a Lutheran, who had designs to marry his daughter Margaret "Meg" (Susannah York); during a heated discussion, Roper asked: "Now you give the Devil benefit of law!" - More artfully responded: "Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?" - when Roper replied: "Yes. I'd cut down every law in England to do that," More responded forcefully: ("Oh, and when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 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 give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake")
  • determined to break from Rome, King Henry renounced papal authority - and demanded that bishops and Parliament renounce all allegiance to the Pope; he declared himself the head of the Anglican Church, known as the Act of Supremacy - hence, he annuled his current marriage and wed Anne (who was then crowned as Queen in 1533); the new Archbishop of Canterbury (Cyril Luckham) upheld the marriage
  • Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern) in Parliament passed a law requiring all English subjects to take an oath of allegiance to accept Henry's will, but More refused to accept the heresy and publically endorse Henry - and was imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London for being a traitor
  • the scene of More's trumped-up, fallacy-filled court trial that included the treachery of courtier Richard Rich (John Hurt) when he perjured himself to destroy More; More denied the accusations of Rich: ("In good faith, Rich, I am sorrier for your perjury than my peril"), and then asserted: ("You know if I were a man who heeded not the taking of an oath, I need not be here. Now, I will take an oath. If what Master Rich has said is true, I pray I may never see God in the face. Which I would not say were it otherwise, for anything on earth!"); then he stated that Rich's testimony, and his refusal to modify his own testimony, doomed him: ("I am a dead man. You have your will of me")
  • in the short following sequence as Rich was about to leave the court, More noticed a golden pendant around Rich's neck: ("That's a chain of office you're wearing...The Red Dragon") - obviously a bribery reward - Rich had recently been appointed as the new Attorney General for Wales; More noted to Rich: ("Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales"); without a jury or deliberations (a sham trial), More was quickly found guilty and pronounced "guilty of high treason"
  • during his last words when he was finally able to speak, More passionately defended his actions and chastised his former friend and King, for committing an illegal action - he cited the Biblical basis for the authority of the Papacy over Christendom, and stated that the Church was immune to the state's interference - guaranteed in both the Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath: ("Since the Court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will now discharge my mind concerning the indictment and the King's title. The indictment is grounded in an act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God and His Holy Church. The supreme government of which no temperable person may by any law presume to take upon him. This was granted by the mouth of our Saviour, Christ Himself, to St. Peter and the bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is therefore insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it. And more than this, the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and in the King's own Coronation Oath"); he then went on, vowing his allegiance to the King, but still disapproving of the marriage: ("I am the King's true subject and I pray for him and all the realm. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive then in good faith, I long not to live. Nevertheless, it is not for the supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!")
  • the concluding scene of More's beheading execution at the Tower of London and his brief poignant words: ("I am commanded by the King to be brief and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die His Majesty's good servant, but God's first"); then he spoke directly to his executioner (Eric Mason) after giving him a coin for his duty, and forgave him: ("I forgive you, right readily. Be not afraid of your office. You send me to God")
  • the epilogue voice-over of the narrator (voice of Colin Blakely), about the aftermath and how More became a revered martyr: ("Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitors' Gate for a month. Then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it 'til her death. Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The Archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the King died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed")

King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw)

Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) Defending the Law to William Roper

Treachery of Richard Rich Perjuring Himself - for the Reward of Being Appointed Attorney General of Wales

More's Defense of His Actions

Pronounced Guilty of High Treason - Final Thoughts

Beheading Execution at Tower of London


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