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Paul Scofield, R.I.P.

By admin Published: March 20, 2008

1963 photo, from the Times of London

The Oscar-winning actor has died. One British obituary is here. Interesting sidelight about Scofield's refusing a knighthood. The Associated Press has its take here. I liked the AP's inclusion of Richard Burton's comment: "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's."

As should be clear from both pieces, Scofield's screen work was very limited, as he was more of a man of the stage. I didn't remember him being in "Quiz Show" until I read the obits, but then remembered how frighteningly good he was in it. I saw a bit of "A Man for All Seasons" on TV not long ago, and was suitably impressed.

Of course, I had also been impressed long, long years ago when I saw that film in a theater. It was moviegoing as an occasion -- I want to say it was tied to a school program, and I vaguely remember having to dress up for it -- back when big prestige movies were sometimes presented as grand events as they toured the country. I don't think I knew a single actor in "Seasons," but the movie, its performances, its tale of politics and morality and betrayal have all stuck with me over the years. And a great deal of that had to do with Scofield's performance; here was a man of great decency and charm, but unbending in his commitment to his beliefs.

It might have been wonderful to have seen Scofield in more movies. No doubt he could have had some big paydays. But that might also have led to him taking commercial fare that was unremarkable, or giving performances that were beneath him. After all, it happened with Olivier and Brando, among others. This way, Scofield may have seemed elusive, but when he appeared it was significant. It made us pay more attention, to him and to the enterprise he had chosen.

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