For our 1Ls at St. John’s this year, my colleague Marc DeGirolami and I recorded a Legal Spirits podcast on the 1966 film, “A Man for All Seasons.” The film, an adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play, tells the story of Sir Thomas More’s conflict with King Henry VIII over papal supremacy. It’s an anachronistic portrayal. Bolt depicts More as a classical liberal who is dying for individual conscience–”What matters to me is not whether it’s true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it”–when in fact More was a Catholic martyr. And the film is a little too earnest at times, though it has a great cast, including Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, John Hurt, Orson Wells, and Leo McKern, who steals the show as More’s nemesis, Thomas Cromwell.
The film and the story it reflects is especially appropriate for lawyers, even the non-theist kind. Marc and I use the film to explore topics such as the lawyer’s obligation to submerge his own beliefs to advance his client’s goals, the legal system’s dependence on the sort of people who administer it, and the ultimate unreliability of law in a totalitarian state. Listen in!