From Our Files: Paul Scofield in 'A Man for all Seasons'
The British actor, who died Wednesday, won an Academy Award when he took the role on-screen.
In 1961 Paul Scofield's stage performance in the play 'A Man for allSeasons' was reviewed in the MONITOR; Scofield, who died Wednesday,would eventually win an Academy Award for his 1966 screen portrayal ofTudor statesman Sir Thomas More.
PAUL SCOFIELD IN 'A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS'
By John Beaufort
From the November 25, 1961 issue of The Christian Science Monitor
'A Man for All Seasons,' Robert Bolt's study of Sir Thomas More, newly arrived at the ANTA, is a prodigious piece of theater. To a degree as welcome as it is rare, the tragedy brings two eras into conjunction. With a controlled perspective given to few writers of historic drama, Mr. Bolt draws a focus which reduces to its minimum the time-space discontinuum separating the current century from those which have gone before. Sir Thomas and his contemporaries pass before the 1961 spectator with an easy naturalness in which there is no trace of condescension. The universal theme and great persons of the drama are not diminished. Rather is the spectator lifted to their plateau level. The author has attained immediacy without compromising distinction.
None of the foregoing is meant to detract from the indispensable contributions made by Paul Scofield, the star; by his largely accomplished supporting cast; by Noel Willman, the director; by Motley, whose spare settings set off their sumptuous costumes; and by Paul Morrison, whose lighting epitomizes visually the production's over-all clarity. Denied its highly sensitized interpretation, "A Man for All Season" could not reach the transcendence experienced at the ANTA. Yet Mr. Bolt's text provided the initial impulse. He therefore deserves the initial expression of thankful praise.
To digress momentarily, it is, I think, more than coincidence that the three most potent dramas of the season deal in some way or another with human isolation. (Admittedly, this is a prevailing phenomenon in the testament of the 20th-century artist- and perhaps not so unique to our times as we sometimes imagine.) "The Caretaker" witnesses the isolation which set men apart from each other. "Gideon" eventuates in an estrangement between the warrior of the Lord and the God whom he has served (Mr. Chayefsky chided the critics for not seeing the existentialism inherent in his play.) "A Man for All Seasons" isolates a subject from his monarch over a matter of conscience. A similar isolation figured centrally in last season's "Becket."
The dram pits the obligations of friendship against the dictates of conscience, intellectual stubbornness against demands for compliance with the royal will, and spiritual integrity against the weapons of tyranny. Summit arguments over kingly policy are lighted with wit and balanced with cosmic asides and interjections spoken by a Cockney chorus.
Conscience doesn't always make cowards. Sometimes it makes heroes and even martyrs, even though they themselves may disclaim any intention of acting heroically or seeking martyrdom. So it is with the Messrs. Bolt and Scofield's Sir Thomas.
What begins with opposition to the divorce of Catherine ends with unspoken censure of Henry's divorcing England from the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome. As Mr. Bolt has framed the argument, the uncompromising position of the scholar – statesman – churchman was unimpeachable.
Mr. Scofield gives a performance precisely attuned to the Brecht-influenced style of the work. There is an aloofness, a detachment which eschews obvious histrionics. Like the loft character he portrays, Mr. Scofield seems determined to rest his whole case on the righteousness of his cause. This is by no means to suggest a lack of technical virtuosity or communicativeness. Yet the performance, in detail and sum, dedicates itself to producing the larger – than – life effect which must endure beyond the final curtain if the play is to have any meaning.
Sir Thomas must stand as a man whose steadfastness never yields under repeated assault. The strength of the position is its very imperviousness, the weakness is the tendency it arouses, after a while, to wonder why he does not state openly the reasons for his opposition. For one spectator at least, Mr. Bolt ends by resolving these intervening doubts.
The impact of 'A Man for All Seasons' gains in performance at the ANTA. The tireless badgering of Leo McKern's Thomas Cromwell, the thickheaded bluster and devotion and puzzlement of Albert Dekker's Norfolk, the sardonic asides of George Rose's scurrying man – of – all – work provide the bulwark of performance.
Essential contributions are made by William Redfield as Richard Rich, a 16th-century opportunist on the make; David J. Stewart as an unctuously plausible Spanish ambassador; Keith Baxter in a brief but impressive appearance as a volatile Henry VIII; Peter Brandon as Sir Thomas' stiff-necked son-in-law; and Jack Creley and Lester Rawlins in essential subordinate roles. Unfortunately the two women's parts, Lady more and her daughter, are indifferently played.
'A Man for All Seasons' adds new stature and distinction to the season, a fact for which we can all be thankful.