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A Man For All Seasons

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . G . PAL


With the British monarchy in the 21st Century serving as gossip fodder rather than actually ruling anything, it’s easy to forget that once upon a long-ago time, if you got to be King or Queen of England, you scored an awful lot of power into the bargain - power that could be (and often was) wielded for totally egotistical reasons, or through a misguided sense of self-importance. Not that it was all bad, of course - after all, royalty actually meant something back then, and while some kings were perfectly content to sit around indulging in banquets and beheadings, there were a few that took the job a little bit more seriously. Some, arguably, took it all a little too seriously.

Reigning for much of the first half of the 16th Century, King Henry VIII was undeniably a pivotal figure in the history of England; through his Reformation Parliament he changed the country forever. But it was what happened as a by-product of his desire for a male heir to the throne that had the greatest impact. Henry, upset that his wife Catherine could not give him a son and desperate to assure the continuation of his dynasty, decided to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, doing so required the pope to agree to an annulment of the first marriage, which wasn’t about to happen. Henry, rather put out by this, solved the problem by rejecting the Catholic Church, forming his own and promptly allowing himself to do what he wanted. It was the beginning of Henry’s notorious string of marriages; Anne Boleyn would only live another three years before being executed and replaced. Inevitably, it’s Henry’s multiple marriages and creative divorcing that most people think about when his name is mentioned; his other deeds were far less notorious.

It’s not surprising, then, that Robert Bolt’s play A Man For All Seasons should choose to focus on Henry’s efforts to get his first divorce legitimised. Quite rightly acclaimed as a masterful work, Bolt’s play used Henry’s actions as the background for a far more compelling story - that of barrister Sir Thomas More, who was a close friend and associate of Henry’s until the move away from the Catholic Church happened. More, horrified at Henry’s actions, refused to swear an oath recognising Henry as the head of the church in England - preferring instead to remain silent. But unfortunately, back in Henry’s time you had two choices - agree wholeheartedly, or get beheaded...

Adapted for film by Robert Bolt himself (he was already perfectly experienced in writing for the screen, having scripted both Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago), A Man For All Seasons (directed by veteran Fred Zinnemann) dominated the 1966 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actor (for Paul Scofield’s stunning portrayal of Thomas More) and four other statues. It might surprise some who watch this 1966 film for the first time, then, that the usual flamboyant extravagance we’ve come to expect from Best Picture winners is not at all noticeable here. This is a very reserved filming of the stage play that places the emphasis, quite rightly, on the words. The sets and costumes are perfectly fine, of course, and time and place is evoked well, but don’t expect sweeping musical themes while characters stare out over expansive Cinemascope vistas; by today’s standards, this is a very wordy film. But the words are magnificent, and the power both of Bolt’s play and Scofield’s interpretation of the lead character has not diminished one bit in the intervening 36 years.

With an excellent cast overall - including the wonderful Leo McKern, the inimitable (and by this stage rather rotund) Orson Welles, a gregarious Robert Shaw as Henry VIII and very early screen performances from John Hurt as Richard Rich (yes, Richie Rich!) and Yootha Joyce (later to be the latter half of TV’s George And Mildred!) this is an acting and writing showcase throughout. It’ll initially seem dry and wordy to those used to current films, but patience pays off; this is a true cinema classic that could never be made as well by the Hollywood of today.


Belying the film’s 36-year age, this DVD transfer of A Man For All Seasons is of exceptional quality, quite clearly using the original negatives as the source and showing up the wonderful richness and clarity of the photography - as well as the occasional sub-par shot. Presented at 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced, this is an almost pristine transfer of well preserved source material; there are a few film scratches and nicks here and there, but nothing especially bothersome - in fact, aside from a very obnoxious vertical scratch early on, it’s unlikely you’ll notice any of them. Colour is very good as well - especially considering the film’s vintage - and while the limitations of the film technology of the day are evident in the form of occasional scenes with visible grain and limited contrast, there’s very little to complain about here.

The 116 minute film is stored on a single layered disc without any noticeable visual compromise, as usual attributable to the skill of the Sony DVD Center (which has a new, silent logo at the end of the film - a big improvement over the previous obnoxious noise-fest!).


A Man For All Seasons was released theatrically with a mono soundtrack, this DVD makes no attempt to rewrite history, providing that mono soundtrack as originally intended - sourced from magnetic masters rather than an optical film soundtrack, thankfully. As is common practice for Sony, though, the mono audio is encoded as a two-channel Dolby Digital stream; exactly why this is done, rather than saving disc space and using a 1.0 stream that would take up half the space, is unknown. At any rate, there’s nothing to complain about sound-wise - on DVD it’s perfectly clear and distortion-free (and if you need reminding just how bad an old-style optical soundtrack can be in this department, check out the trailer elsewhere on this disc!), and while you won’t be using this one to show off your new ubersystem, you’ve probably never heard this film sounding this clean and clear before. There is a modest amount of tape hiss (remember, Dolby noise reduction on movie soundtracks was still seven years away) but not at an objectionable level; keen ears will also pick up the occasional pre-echo on the magnetic tape. Four other languages are provided (all mono, all encoded as 2.0 streams) and of these, the Spanish track sounds as though it has been recorded very recently.


“Special features exclusive to DVD!!” says the front cover. The back cover lists two of those features as “picture disc” and “original widescreen presentation”, though, which is stretching things a little bit. The only actual extra material on the disc is a theatrical trailer made after the film’s Academy Awards victory, and it’ll make you appreciate the picture and sound quality of the actual film transfer even more than you already did. There’s also a brochure (or “Exclusive Souvenir Booklet”, if you prefer) advertising Columbia Tristar’s Academy Award Winners series.


Most certainly a classic of both stage and screen, A Man For All Seasons is not a film for all people; if you’re looking for a melodramatic account of the times of Henry VIII, look elsewhere. This is dramatic theatre at its finest, wonderfully acted and handsomely filmed. Columbia Tristar’s DVD presents the film with excellent clarity and definition, and those who’ve been looking forward to this movie’s long-overdue release on DVD in Australia won’t be disappointed.

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      And I quote...
    "...those who’ve been looking forward to this movie’s long-overdue release on DVD in Australia won’t be disappointed"
    - Anthony Horan
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