Legendary actor Paul Scofield dies

Chris Kallio

Paul Scofield, the actor whose most notable role was in A Man for All Seasons and its film version, died last week. He was 86.

Scofield was an immense performer, specializing in wise and potent figures with his weathered face and remarkable voice.

Born in 1922 in Hurstpierpoint, England, Scofield toured as Hamlet in 1955, followed by the stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory the following year — John Gielgud called the performance Scofield’s greatest.

Then came A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More’s defiant resistance to Henry VIII’s demand for More’s endorsement of Henry’s divorce. Scofield journeyed with the play to Broadway in 1962 and won the Tony for Best Actor.

Scofield reprised his role in the film version in 1966. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote of Scofield’s film performance as “brilliant in his exercise of temperance and restraint, of disciplined wisdom and humor,” and that Scofield “manages to use the glowing words of Mr. Bolt and his own histrionic magnificence to give a luminescence and power, integrity and honor, to this man who will not ‘yes’ his King.” Scofield won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal.

Despite the many calls to become a Hollywood star, Scofield remained primarily in the theatre. In 1979 he originated the role of Peter Shaffer’s Salieri, the hard-working yet deeply jealous composer, in Amadeus opposite Simon Callow as Mozart (it was brought to Broadway the following year with Ian McKellen and Tim Curry in the respective roles).

In a 2004 opinion poll of members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Scofield was praised for giving the greatest performance in a Shakespearean play for his portrayal of the title role in King Lear in 1962.

Scofield still did, however, appear on the screen. His Emmy-award winning performance in Male of the Species made him the sixth performer to have won the triple crown of acting with the three major awards. He was acclaimed for his performances in Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version of Henry V and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 version of Hamlet. Robert Redford cast Scofield as the honest intellectual father to Ralph Fiennes’ Charles Van Doren in Quiz Show (1994). Scofield’s performance earned him his second Oscar nomination. His last great screen performance was as Judge Danforth in the film adaptation of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s groundbreaking play.

Scofield is survived by his wife and two children.

Contact all reporter Chris Kallio at [email protected].