1 March 2014 | son_of_cheese_messiah
Subtler and wider in scope than the Scofield film
Having long been an admirer of the 66 film, I watched this TV version with little expectation. I had never even heard of it until I happened to look up the film on wikipedia. The entry there had very little to say this TV version (not usually a promising sign but my curiosity was sufficiently roused for me to acquire a copy. I was very pleasantly surprised.
This version sticks much closer to the original play than the famous film which removed many lines of dialogue and even whole characters (such as Chapuis). I guess that is what Hollywood does: simplify for a mass audience.
Many important points were thus removed. The entire subplot of Phillip of Spain's support for More. The threat of a Northern uprising and More's desire to have no part of it. These additions contextualise Henry's divorce in the world of contemporaneous European politics and his desire to stave off the dynastic wars which had dominated the previous century. Without them, as in the 66 film, Henry's actions can seem mere caprice or selfishness in his part. And of course many of Bolt's lines, poetic and thrilling in themselves, are brutally excised.
The restoration of these would make this version worthy. However it stands on its own merits too. 'Quiet', 'subtle' and indeed 'understated' are three words that come to mind about this version generally. Heston is far subtler and warmer is the role of More than Scofield, although perhaps less compelling. I'm a great fan of Leo McKern's Cromwell but in some ways Benjamin Whitrow is better, his performance having a quiet menace about it by comparison too McKern's more obvious angry and domineering performance. The great Roy Kinnear is memorable as his composite character too.
Not all the actors are up to the task. Vanessa Redgrave delivers an overblown performance at variance to the general tenor of the film. She also affects a curious northern accents for some reason. Weaker still is Jonathon Hackett as Richard Rich, presumably he was cast because of his strong physical resemblance to the historical Rich but his performance is dull and wooden.
Certainly this is a version all fans of the play or film should see.