The late Paul Scofield never took to screen acting. In a 50-year career his name comes up only a few dozen times, most recently as Mark Van Doren in Robert Redford’s sterling “Quiz Show.” In the mid-60s, director Fred Zinnemann (“High Noon”) urged Scofield to play Sir Thomas More, who puts faith ahead of king and stands in the way of Henry VIII’s divorce.
Scofield knew the role well since he’d been charged with Robert Bolt’s play in London. Still, the screen performance is one for the ages, all the more so because to Scofield’s Sir Thomas, Zinnemann positions Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey and Robert Shaw, another pre-eminent presence, as Henry.
This is West End filmmaking of course, dependent mostly on soliloquy, flourish, and obdurate personalities. But oh, the exchanges!
Wolsey: “That… thing out there; at least she’s fertile.”
More: “She’s not his wife.”
Wolsey: “Catherine’s his wife and she’s barren as a brick; are you going to pray for a miracle?”
More: “There are precedents.”
If you can’t attend theater, attend this.