Episode 68: A Man For All Seasons

18 Sep

In this episode, Tyler and Josh discuss Fred Zinneman’s Oscar-winning costume drama A Man For All Seasons.

00:00:46- Intro, For The Title, The Unemployed Mind
00:06:05- A Man For All Seasons, “Differing Without Destroying”
01:10:30- Film availability, Amazon Watch Instant
01:10:55- Episode wrap-up, Unemployed Mind teaser, Donations

4 Responses to “Episode 68: A Man For All Seasons”

  1. Steven September 19, 2012 at 2:41 am #

    I really enjoyed your episode on ‘A Man for All Seasons’, a fantastic film filled with wonderful performances and evocative dialogue; however I could not understand why, as Protestant Christians, you did not entertain the notion that by backing the Catholic Church, against what would eventually become The Church of England, a reformation church that still stands today, as an Anglican church and is very much at the forefront of Christianity; that More was not in fact wrong for his stand. He was on the wrong side of history on this occasion, as you put it within your episode, and his decision to die on a point of principle for a Catholic church that was abandoned by the country in the near future was not a mistake. There is a very impressive, a Booker prize winning, novel by Hilary Mantel called Wolf Hall that posits More as the ‘villain’ of history and rather sees Cromwell as the hero within the story.

    It is interesting to see that More, canonised by Catholic Europeans as akin to a saint, being applauded for something that all protestants and Anglican Christians subsequently denounced. It seems a fallacy to me to continually refer to Christianity as a whole entity, without its differences and subtleties, within an episode that is so clearly delineated on lines of Catholicism and the forthcoming reformation.

    Anyway, I absolutely loved the podcast and I love the show. Definitely look forward to you covering more explicitly religious films from the past.

    Kind regards

    • Tyler Smith September 19, 2012 at 3:18 am #

      I certainly think that Hilary Mantel is very, very wrong. More had a strong belief grounded in his Biblical belief that divorce isn’t to be taken lightly; marriage is considered one of the most sacred of all institutions. To want to abandon it as a function of “convenience” (Cromwell’s word in the film) seems like one is simply casting the Bible aside. His job as chancellor was one that required that he not merely be a representative of the church, but that he live according to his own conscience. His conscience, based as it was not only on the church’s teaching, but his own reading of scripture, caused him to not be able to agree that Henry’s desire for divorce was wholly Biblical, which I think we can all agree was not.
      What’s interesting is that, earlier in the film, More is completely against his daughter marrying a Lutheran, because he considers him a heretic. Later in the film, without much fanfare, we see that the two are, in fact, married and More treats his son-in-law with respect and affection. Clearly, he no longer believed that his son-in-law was heretical, especially when he saw how corrupt the church had become. Hard to know.
      Either way, he had a job to do and he was going to do it the way he thought it should be done. When he realized that he could no longer do the job the way the king desired it to be done, he resigned his post. This way, his private conscience could be kept private. His stand wasn’t keeping anybody from doing anything. But the king wanted to borrow More’s credibility.
      How anybody can look at the situation of one man wanting to do something and another man unable to condone it and is thus killed and say that the martyr is in the wrong is beyond me. And- in the context of the film- Henry’s forming of the Church of England had less to do with corruption within the Catholic church (though there certainly was that) and more to do with him not getting what he wanted. And, of course, it is worth noting that both More and Cromwell wound up being executed for treason, one having opposed the king according to his conscience, the other having done everything the king wanted, ostensibly for his own benefit.
      If there is a real villain in the film- and probably of history, too- it is Henry VIII, an impulsive, brutal child of a man whose desires and stubbornness led to many unnecessary deaths, quite often simply because he no longer had any use for those that he once claimed to love. That this man claimed headship of the church is just one more example of his tyrannical desire to force his will on others. Thomas More understood that this was wrong and suffered for that belief; Catholic or Protestant, that’s the kind of commitment that I hope one can admire.

  2. Steven September 19, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    I like your reading of the film, and the history as an addition; that it concerns the notion of divorce rather than, how I see it, that it is a question of Papal power. If the Pope had agreed to Henry VIII’s divorce then More would have had no issue, he would have signed the note granting the divorce and would have been perfectly happy with the situation, however it was Henry VIII continual refusal to bend to the Pope (and his subsequent defiance of papal authority), who at this time was imprisoned by Emperor Charles V (who happened to be the nephew of Catherine, Henry VIII first wife! Thus very much against any notion of divorce) and was seen as a Spanish pawn in European political terms. More only resigned from the office as Lord Chancellor when Cromwell introduced a number of acts that were brought about to force the Catholic influence in England to its knees, and subsequently force the pope to grant the divorce. More knew the position on the divorce when he became Lord Chancellor, and he had backed it originally until the Catholic church with Spain behind it decried it. A divorce that Henry and Wolesly (the mighty Orson Welles in the film) felt that they had biblical justification for under Leviticus, since Catherine was originally married to Henry’s brother before his death.

    On top of this, which has turned into a ramble, Henry was married to Catherine for 24 years, and no male heir was produced, it was felt at the time this may have been a sign from God because she had been his brother’s wife, and it was a move of desperation on Henry’s part to divorce her (at least at first as what comes later, ie the next five wifes!, does him no favours) to avoid another Civil War, as Henry VII was only crowned King of England after the brutal War of the Roses that Henry VIII having no male heir could have recreated. I have no real wish to defend Henry VIII but I do not think he divorced Catherine in a fit of pique but rather for reasons of attempting to avoid any future war and securing the throne for his future progeny.

    Hence, as I see it More was less concerned about a biblical stance than a Catholic stance, something that was cast aside going forward anyway. It was no so much as a stand on principle rather a stand on his faith to the Pope, rather than God; though that is a tricky subject since Catholics and the Papacy see the Pope as God’s instrument on earth, particularly at More’s time. I think the film presents this, and it is an interesting aspect of the movie’s consideration. Being an English story, an English play and English production it introduces an intersting slant on the Catholicism and how it could force a man against his own morality to do something in the name of another.

    And the only other thing I would say is that More only allowed the marriage of his daugther Margaret to William Roper, once Roper converted back to Catholicism, which I think is covered briefly (like one line brief) in the film. But that is neither here nor there.

    Really appreciate you getting back to me, I am a big fan of the show, and certainly did not expect it! A Man for All Seasons is simply one of my favorite films and I find it endlessly fascinating and watchable, and love discussing it.

    • Tyler Smith September 19, 2012 at 4:43 am #

      I always viewed Henry’s justification for the divorce to be just that: a justification. Wolsey’s support of it seemed to be more a function of practicality than actual conscience. It’s interesting that Henry’s Biblical understanding did not extend to passages that condemn adultery. Again, I see the film as extremely cynical towards institutions, whether it be the church or the crown. They seem to exist solely for their own purposes. The only way to avoid becoming cynical ourselves, like Cromwell or Wolsey, is to stand on principle and conscience, even if it is the same principle that these institutions are supposedly based on. You run across it all the time now, when a pastor or a president betrays his followers. Rather than lose faith in the institution because of flawed men, we can choose to go to the root of the belief system upon which that institution is built and recognize that there are things stronger than the idiosyncrasies of man.
      Of course, a lot of what you’ve discussed above is not in the film, which I’m fine with. I do not require my movies based on true stories to be point-for-point. I only require that they be compelling and speak to a deeper truth, while not sacrificing the complexity of the human condition. Movies like THE BLIND SIDE (see the previous episode) discard the frustration of reality and humanity in favor of a simple story and an even simpler theme. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, in my opinion, does not do this. It uses the true story of Thomas More, a man that was killed for opposing those in power based on his spiritual conscience, to get tell a deeper story; one that is perhaps larger than the specific story of Thomas More. A story that is not unlike that of Jeremiah or Paul or even Jesus Himself. When we say certain things that people don’t like, we will likely be persecuted in whatever fashion is preferable to the day. However, that doesn’t excuse us from making that stand.
      Of course, history buffs have long gotten angry at artists and art lovers for accepting an incomplete retelling of the facts. Of course, there is more to the story, but I am a firm believer that movies can be what we make of them. If Quentin Tarantino can kill Hitler, then certainly certain contextual details about the death of Thomas More can be glossed over, if for no other reason than to make a more compelling film. I do not claim that the story on screen is exactly the way it happened, anymore than those that are inspired by BRAVEHEART believe it to be the hard-and-fast truth (at least, I truly hope they don’t believe that). I instead see it as it is; a work of fiction that, to borrow an idea from Professor Indiana Jones, is more interested in truth than fact.

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