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Robert Bolt’s Play, A Man for All Seasons vs. Zinnemann's Film Adaptation

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When reflecting on Zinnemann’s adaptation of A Man for All Seasons (1966) compared to Robert Bolt’s original play, many differences are noted between the two. Although the film provides a strict interpretation of the play by using direct dialogue, it incorporates multiple variations, including the overall tone, the plot, the characterization, and the mood. The movie serves to depict Bolt’s play in a completely different approach while staying true to the main themes of his play. All in all, both the play and the movie of A Man for All Seasons provide an accurate background on the historical event concerning Thomas More’s downfall as the Lord Chancellor of England.

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From the movie, it is observed that much of the dialogue from Robert Bolt’s play is preserved in its original format. This dialogue was kept purposely to give background information, references, and accurate details about the characters. More states this in both the play and the movie: “If what Master Rich has said is true, then I pray I may never see God in the face!” (Act II: Bolt 92). This use of direct dialogue is important in the significance of the scene because it helps to portray More’s integrity before his ultimate demise. Although some parts of the dialogue were not used, Zinnemann’s film edition includes the significant conversations which are accurate in obtaining the true meanings and thoughts of the main characters within the play.

The tone of the play depicts more of a calm, professional distinction when compared to the film. For example, during the scene with More and King Henry XIII in the movie, the conversations between the two have an antagonized and intense tone in contrast with the play. From the play, it is observed that the king does not respond in a harsh manner toward More’s personal opinions but instead reciprocates with respect. King Henry responds to More’s discontent toward his divorce of King Catherine in this way in the play: “Thomas, I respect your sincerity. Respect? Oh, man, it’s water in the desert” (Act I: Bolt 34). Also from the play, it is observed that the character of Cromwell is astringent toward the character of Richard Rich. Within the play, it is noted that Cromwell does this: “And seizing Rich by the wrist he holds his hand in the candle flame” (Act I: Bolt 45). This scene is not included in the movie, so Cromwell’s corrupt character is not foreseen like in the play. On the other hand, both adaptations offer a discrepancy in tone in order to appeal to a variety of diverse audiences.

From both the play and the movie, one could observe a very similar plot line. Although this is common in adaptations of plays, Zinneman’s A Man for All Seasons changes some of the plot while keeping the main parts of it the same. This is purposeful and essential toward the understanding of the play and the events that occur. Because the movie eliminates crucial background knowledge, then those who have not read the play will not understand the intended plot. For example, the main difference found in the movie version is that there is an absence of the “Common Man” that is included in the play. This character gives background information that allows readers to better understand what is going on in the play. Unlike the play, the movie emphasizes More’s entitlement of Lord Chancellor with a large display. A vital difference in the plot of the film is the introduction of Cromwell as a spy at the beginning instead of at the end like in the play. This diminishes Cromwell’s suspiciousness that is observed in many key elements of the play. Also, a scene in the movie that shows Cromwell throwing Rich into the mud is portrayed but is not included in the play. Despite these differences in the plot, the movie stays true to the main points of the play. In both the movie and the play, More does not attend the wedding of King Henry XIII and Anne Boleyn. Additionally, the discreet death of Cardinal Wolsey provides a turning point of the plot in both adaptations of A Man for All Seasons. In conclusion, the film provides an accurate description of the overall plot of Robert Bolt’s well-known play by the summation of textual evidence and actual occurrences.

The greatest similarity between the film and the play is the characterization of the key individuals. The characters in the movie display the same physical features and descriptions of those in the play. Evidence of this is found by reading the character descriptions on the first and second page of Bolt’s play. For example, Cardinal Wolsey is “old; a big decayed body in scarlet” (Bolt 1). Likewise, Cardinal Wolsey is stout and dressed in scarlet in the movie. The play uses both direct and indirect characterization to allow readers to better understand the thoughts, qualities, and overall personalities of the individuals in the play. The film strictly uses indirect characterization by showing the viewer events that would lead to forming a conclusion about the attributes of the individuals. Furthermore, the main character, Thomas More, references the use of his conscience as his spiritual guide in all things. This leads readers and viewers of both the play and the film to better discover More’s character. For instance, on page 71 in the play, More states that “God is love right through” (Act II: Bolt 71). This quote gives evidence that More is a very spiritual man with regard to his decisions made in accordance to his conscience given from the Holy Spirit as a Christian man. Also, the characterization of Richard Rich is discovered throughout the progression of the play. From his actions, it is seen that Rich will do anything in order to profit financially, even at the expense of his own conscience. All things considered, the characterization of the characters is seen similarly in both the play and the movie but is portrayed in different ways due to the discrepant viewing availabilities.

The mood in both the play and the movie is revealed in different ways. In the film, an evident shift of the mood includes the visual representation of the changing of the seasons near the end of the film. This gives the visual image of time passing by while More is imprisoned. Although aging occurs in the play, it is difficult to picture this, and the film was effective in emphasizing this prevalent importance. The use of symbolism in this scene created an ominous mood in the movie because it demonstrated that as time was passing, Thomas More was getting older and progressing toward his death. The lack of music and lighting in the movie when compared to the play excludes an essential element of textual evidence that illustrates the mood. In contrast, the inclusion of lighting and music in the play formed the development and the importance of particular scenes that were in need of further emphasis. However, both the film adaptation and the play give an element of change to the mood in A Man for All Seasons.

Even though both the movie adaptation and the play of A Man for All Seasons are very different in comparison, they each provide a unique interpretive aspect for the topic. The use of dialogue for emphasis is significant in understanding and making connections with the characters of the play. The film uses changes in the tone, the plot, the characterization, and the mood in order to appeal to audiences who have not viewed the play by providing alterations that allow for better comprehension of the theme and message of the play. As a direct result of this, the movie of A Man for All Seasons gives a precise, visually appealing, and a new perspective to Robert Bolt’s 1960 play, A Man for All Seasons.

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