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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.

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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.

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Sir Thomas hopes that, by resigning the Lord Chancellorship of England and by his silence, he can remain aloof from the great controversy over Henry VIII's separatism.

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.