Paul Scofield won his Oscar from his first nomination for portraying Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons.
In some instances when an actor reprises a stage role actors fail to refine their performance for film, and can come off as somewhat theatrical in terms of their performance. Paul Scofield though as Thomas More never for moment has the problem, giving one of the most restrained performance in this category. As More Scofield attunes his performance perfectly for film, making the silence, and the dignity of the character truly come to life.
Although playing slimy characters certianly can result in great performances like Richard Burton's and Michael Caine's from this year, there perhaps is not enough credit given when an actor manages to give a truly effective performance when portraying a wholly good character. More as portrayed here is a man of quiet dignity, who believes in what he believes in and refuses to comply with any other if they wish for him to forget his conscience, frankly More could have been very dull, but Scofield never is.
Scofield never makes More some sort of above human character, instead he always realizes the idea that More is still just a man, an intelligent passionate, with a great deal of inner strength, but still a man. I think what helps so much in this is how natural the dignity of More is through Scofield. Scofield never seems to be trying to be dignified, he simply is a man of that stature. Scofield's voice, and manner just has class that simply of its own, and completely as More should be in the film.
Throughout all of More's trials and tribulations Scofield brings out the power in theses scenes because of how natural he is in them. More has many verbal fights defending his choice to remain silent despite the pressure being put on him, by many of the King's men. Scofield does not ever make his case seem pompous, because he genuinely shows that his beliefs are those true to his heart and himself, and simply cannot be comprised no matter what the cost.
More speaks of a many laws, and the various complexities of ones conscience and responsibility in many longs speeches, speeches that easily could have been overblown by any other actor, but Scofield does not do this because he has such truthful conviction in his words. There is a moment of artificiality in any of More words Scofield shows that they are the honest belief, of More and his ability to speak at such lengths and so well, comes naturally from his intelligence, because Scofield has the utmost consistency in what he says.
Scofield slow exhaustion through his trial is well handled through both his physical disintegration, and just his mental exhaustion from his constant harassment, and ill treatment. Scofield although shows his body weaken he always shows how steadfast More is in his beliefs. His slow transition into realizing how far his trial will go is natural, and what is terrific is his final scenes at the trial where he finally speaks out against the King. It is certainly a slow transition, but an earned one since when he finally yells he shows Thomas in his full force of will which has the strength it needs.
What I particularly like about Scofield's performance are the little moments in his performance with his family. They are not exactly the warmest of families, really but there is an honest love between them which Scofield carefully shows throughout through small honest reactions. Scofield never becomes overly emotional even in this last heartfelt goodbye, yet Scofield still manages to make it a meaningful, and heartbreaking relationship Thomas has with his family. Their final scene together is more moving I think because Scofield stays restrained enough to be true to Thomas, yet still subtly portrays the devastating effect seeing his family, for what he knows to be the last time.
Scofield's whole performance is an effect subtle work for the most part, that excels in a fashion few performances do. He makes Thomas an interesting man, even though he is a wholly good man. More's characterization easily could have been a boring performance, that feels just like one really long lecture on politics, and religion. Scofield though never turns his performance into lecture, and Scofield never fails to bring the honest natural passion performance that serves appropriately serves the Thomas More, and the film itself.