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Robert Bolt's 1960 script for A Man for All Seasons is one of the more thoughtful and eloquent presentations of religious faith and the consequences of placing principle above all else that has been produced in the theater (and, later, in film). The story of Sir Thomas More's conflict with the demands of King Henry VIII, whose desire to marry Anne Boleyn despite being married to Queen Catherine would split the Church of England and result in More's execution, remains a compelling depiction of those seminal events in history. More's refusal to countenance Henry's divorce in contravention of the Catholic Church's prohibition on divorce, despite the stakes for himself, for England, and for the Church, was and remains one of history's most important examples of moral courage.
Bolt's depiction of More is idealized, as this most highly-respected of historical figures was not above what we could call undemocratic actions with respect to the Reformation, but there is no question that Sir Thomas More was a figure of unusual moral courage and integrity, and his acceptance of death rather than acquiesce to the king's unprincipled positions stands as an enduring symbol of moral rectitude. The scenes in Bolt's play depicting conversations between More and Henry, between More and William Roper, between More and Cardinal Wolsey, and between More and Cromwell are all brilliantly conceived and illuminate More's innate decency and integrity. He was willing to pay the price for his principles, and Bolt's play (and later screenplay) enshrined this historical figure in the public's consciousness in a way no other format likely could have.
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