I love good movies though I seldom go to the theater to see a film. The reason for that is quite simple. I enjoy a movie which has a soul and a moral. Or one that is about someone who is an exceptional human being – a person who has contributed something special to the world.
I seldom find those sorts of films at the theater – no matter how many screens there are. When I want to view a good movie, I prefer spending a few hours at home with one of the classics I have in my extensive film library.
One such film – one that I watch at least twice a year – is the Motion Picture Academy’s selection for Best Picture of the Year for 1966, “A Man for all Seasons.”
The original play, written by Robert Bolt was adapted by him for the screen version. It starred the late Paul Scofield in the part of Sir Thomas More.
Sir Thomas was one of Henry VIII’s most trusted advisers and had been appointed by him to several positions – the final one being the highest post that a commoner could achieve, Chancellor of England.
But a conflict arose between the king and More when, in need of an heir, Henry put aside one wife after another. Sir Thomas had a crisis of conscience between his loyalty to the king and to his principles as a devout Catholic. This ultimately led to his imprisonment in the Tower of London and to his trial for high treason.
Because More was esteemed by the English people as a man of supreme honesty and integrity, his successor as Chancellor resorted to perjured testimony to convict him. That testimony was delivered by Sir Richard Rich – a man who had previously sought out More’s patronage, hoping he would recommend him for a government post. Sir Thomas had rejected that request recognizing the young man’s desire for power – and the character flaws which made him unworthy to be entrusted with it.
For me, the essence of the movie occurs in the scene after Rich has delivered his false testimony. By betraying his oath Rich has lost his immortal soul. And More realizes that he will be convicted – that political expedience is going to prevail over honesty and truth.
As Rich is leaving the court, More sees that he is wearing an official chain around his neck.
“Is that a chain of office,?” he asks. “What is it?”
The prosecutor, his successor as Chancellor replies,
“Sir Richard has been appointed Solicitor General for Wales.”
To this More says,
“You know, Richard – it profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world … but for Wales.”
The timbre of his voice and the look of resignation as Scofield says this causes me to gasp every time I view the movie. It is one of the most moving deliveries I have ever seen in any film.
Based on the perjured testimony, More is convicted and sentenced to death.
When asked by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury if he has any final words before his beheading, More replies,
“I die the king’s good subject – but God’s first.”
Most of us will never be called upon to put our convictions, our beliefs or our sense of values to the ultimate test of holding on to them and face losing our lives. But we all make choices every day.
Sometimes we can readily identify and follow the right path. Other times our decisions can be more difficult – made murky by expedience and the expectation of momentary gain.
Whenever I find myself at that fork in the road, I watch, “A Man for all Seasons.” It has always helped illuminate my path and, I hope, rightly choose the road I must travel.