Thursday, March 20, 2008

6. Paul Scofield, a true man, for all seasons



PAUL SCOFIELD, 1922-2008. Triple crown achieved at age 47 with an Emmy for outstanding single performance by an actor in a leading role for "Male of the Species." Preceded by a best actor Tony for "A Man for All Seasons" in 1962 and a best actor Oscar in 1966 for recreating the role onscreen.

Following Anthony Minghella and Arthur C. Clarke into the hereafter, Paul Scofield completed another celebrity death triptych yesterday. He died at 86 in the south of England, leaving only six living Triple Crowners.

This post will be massively deficient. To know and appreciate Paul Scofield is to have experienced his work onstage and I, of course, was not privileged to have seen his portrayals of Hamlet, Lear and Salieri and his interpretations of Ibsen, Shaw and Marlowe. I have seen him in two movies: 1994's Quiz Show, for which he nominated for an Oscar, and 1966's A Man for All Seasons, for which he won. In both movies he plays men of principle who do not waver under extreme circumstances.

"Your name is mine!" he growls at Ralph Fiennes, who plays his cheating son in Quiz Show.

"I am commanded by the king to be brief, and since I am the king's obedient subject, brief I will be," he says before his execution in A Man for All Seasons. "I die His Majesty's good servant, but God's first."

Two thirds of his Triple Crown he owes to Robert Bolt, who wrote the stage play and screenplay for "A Man for All Seasons," in which Scofield plays Sir Thomas More, the English statesman who stood up to Henry VIII. The film, for me, is a bore. Scofield's character seems to exist in spite of it. It's a humble performance, befitting both More and Scofield himself, who refused a knighthood in the '60s and eschewed all manner of limelight. He never went to the Oscars or gave a TV interview, never engaged in self-promotion and always returned to his family when the work was done. He was impervious to any kind of corruption, small or large, however inconsequential. View the clip below to see how he invests More with his gracefully adamantine spirit.


"Male of the Species," a Hallmark movie that won him his Emmy, seems interesting but remains unavailable for rental. He, Sean Connery and Michael Caine play three iterations of malehood and, of course, Scofield represents the principled and fatherly. A man so disciplined and pure in his personal life was able to approach each role as a blank slate, to sublimate his imposing physical features depending on his task. This was a man with an utter lack of vanity.

What I still would love to see: He and Katharine Hepburn in A Delicate Balance, in John Frankenheimer's The Train and, of course, in Zeffirelli's Hamlet and Branagh's Henry V. If anyone out there has more personal or qualitative thoughts on Scofield, please leave them in the comments.

This is part six of The Triple Crowners, an 18-part series celebrating the actors who have won an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy. Check back soon for part seven, featuring one of the most terrific (truly terrific) performers of all time. Or catch up with previous installments here.

6 comments:

Hurlywood said...

everyone is dying.

musicalbloviator said...

Scofield's Lear was made for the screen as well. And don't forget, he also gave an absolutely terrifying performance as Judge Danforth in Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of The Crucible.

I must say, I completely disagree about Man for All Seasons. Scofield is just the highlight of a fantastic movie with over half a dozen main characters and not a single performance that is any less than superb.

J.J. said...

I'm a philistine.

musicalbloviator said...

No doubt, but I like the blog anyway.

cattleworks said...

Well, I don't find the film to be a bore, it's one of my favorites, but really, the attraction is the script. I love the performances as well, but there are weirdly surprising undynamic moments in the way it's filmed, like the final court scene. I still scratch my head over some of the choices of far shots. Perhaps it plays better on a large screen, but still.
But among the really good cast, I think Susannah York is particularly great, especially as she tries to convince her father at the end to rationalize his way to giving in to save himself, and the way the emotions of pride and defeat flash and struggle across her face as her father counters her argument. And when I say pride, I mean pride at what kind of man her father is.

But, really the dialogue takes center stage here.

I sometimes remember with irritation as well a local production of the play. I happened to catch a show where they had a Q & A with the cast afterwards.
I thought the lead was alright, but I had some issues with parts of his performance.
Well, I understood what bothered me when he explained that he couldn't understand how a man could choose God over his own family.
But, that's me griping, I suppose.

Grrr...

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