The actor Paul Scofield has died. He was 86. That, in itself, may not lead to mourning. But the character Scofield played in the film "A Man for All Seasons" Sir Thomas More will always trigger feelings of remorse, mostly for the loss of integrity, high-mindedness and wisdom in a modern society that has forsaken More's principles.
As an actor, Scofield was a formidable person. A family man, he took few roles and spent much time at home. He was known in his own right for his high-minded approach to life. When he worked, he took meaty roles. Called a "towering actor," he played pivotal characters in movies ranging from "Quiz Show" to "The Crucible." But it was as Thomas More that he both made and left his mark. He not only won an Oscar for the portrayal but, in the minds of moviegoers, left a fully formed character who remains to this day. And one reason it remains is the qualities of Sir Thomas in the film integrity, loyalty, honesty, faith, love have been badly eroded in a world where relativism is the watchword.
More was a devout Catholic and a friend of King Henry VIII. When Henry decided to divorce, the Catholic Church would not grant its approval. So the king asked his friend Thomas to abandon his principles and support him in the divorce. Thomas would not. And because of his stance, he lost everything everything except his integrity. And that made all the difference.
For the lesson of Sir Thomas More still applies. Yes, this is a cynical age, an age when people will say and do what needs to be said or done to get ahead, an age when self-interest and self-importance rule. But More lived in a wildly violent age a time when simply refusing to knuckle under to pressure could land a person in the Tower of London, in the stocks or worse still in the hangman's noose.
Sir Thomas More is as relevant today as he was in his day. And Paul Scofield with his grand Shakespearean style and voice that sounded (as one critic put it) like rumbling organ pipes, preserved More's legacy and example for the ages. And, along with it, he has preserved his own.