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Man for All Seasons, A (1966)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1528. Sir Thomas More, a member of the King's High Council, is summoned to Hampton Court by Cardinal Wolsey, the Chancellor of England. Before More departs, he is warned by his friend, the Duke of Norfolk, to be wary of Wolsey.

At Hampton Court, Wolsey tells More that he is worried by his lack of support for the King's predicament: King Henry VIII is married to Catherine, his brother's widow, by special dispensation from the Pope. Henry needs a male heir, however, and Catherine cannot provide one. He plans to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, but needs the Pope's consent to a divorce. Wolsey hopes to pressure the church, but More refuses to help. Wolsey hints that, unless More changes his opinion, Thomas Cromwell (Wolsey's secretary) may succeed as Chancellor rather than More.

As More leaves, a woman, Averil Machin, gives him a cup intended as a bribe for his favour in a legal case. More tries to dispose of the cup on his boat ride home, but the boatman retrieves it. A young Cambridge graduate, Richard Rich, to whom More has promised a position, is waiting for More as he docks at home. Rich desires a place at court, but More offers him the post of teacher. Rich declares that Cromwell may help him if More will not. More gives Rich the cup as a gift.

William Roper, a young Lutheran, asks for More's daughter's hand in marriage. More refuses since he disagrees with Roper's religious beliefs.

Months later. A dying Cardinal Wolsey nominates More to succeed him as Chancellor. The King visits More to ask for his support in obtaining a divorce, but More angers the King by declaring it a matter for the Pope.

Rich, again rejected for employment by More, visits Cromwell (about to become secretary to the Council) in order to gain a position. Rich tells Cromwell that the cup he was given by More was a bribe from a litigant with a case in the Court of Requests.

The Convocation of Canterbury is forced to admit Henry VIII as supreme head of the church in England, admitting that the statute passed through parliament. More resigns from the Chancellor's post in order to maintain his silence on the subject. Cromwell shows the Duke of Norfolk evidence suggesting that More accepted a bribe from Averil Machin. Norfolk protests, but Cromwell pressures the Duke, suggesting that the King would like Norfolk to persuade More to attend the royal wedding. More does not attend.

More is summoned to answer charges before Cromwell, but defends himself ably. Cromwell takes an Act to Parliament requiring an oath of support for the King's marriage and new title. More will not take the oath, and is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Much time passes. More is questioned at Richmond Palace by Norfolk, Cromwell, Rich and the Lord Archbishop Cranmer, acting on behalf of the seventh Commission appointed to More's case. More admits he recognises Anne's offspring as heir to the throne, but will not swear to the Act. He remains silent when asked for a reason, since any answer could legally justify his death for treason (the Commission supposes that his objections lie in the Act's questioning of papal authority). More's family try to persuade him to compromise, but he refuses.

Cromwell reads a charge of high treason in court. More argues that his silence is not the same as a denial of the oath. Rich is called as a witness. He claims that while visiting More's cell, More stated that Parliament had no power to make the King head of the Church. More accuses Rich of perjury, suggesting that he has agreed to lie for appointment as the Attorney General for Wales. The jury pronounce More guilty. At his execution, More faces death calmly.

Epilogue: More's head was kept on Traitor's Gate for a month before being removed by his daughter Margaret. Cromwell was beheaded five years later for high treason, and the Archbishop was burned at the stake. Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the King died the night before from syphilis. Rich became Chancellor of England and died in his bed.