Paul Scofield

It is not the function of this journal to become an Endless Parade of Death, but here we are again.

Paul Scofield didn’t make that many movies, and when he did make a movie he generally played classical roles, guys in doublets and funny hats. He’s best known for his performance as Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons (opposite Robert Shaw as Henry VIII, who we were just discussing the other day). But I will always remember him as The Dad in Quiz Show, a film about which

  once said: “You could bounce a quarter off that movie.”

One of the things that movies do, for good and for ill, is teach us how to behave.  You like to think that, if you were a secret agent charged with saving the world, you could witness the grisly death of a mortal enemy and a witty quip would simply come to you, you wouldn’t need to practice it beforehand or have a running list in your head.  You like to think that, if you were a nightclub owner in wartime Africa, you’d have the moral rectitude to force your old girlfriend to go off with her husband for the good of the world, even though every fiber of your being longs to have her with you always.  On some level, dramatic structures exist to do just this: to present moral and behavioral circumstances and instruct us on what is the best way to behave under those circumstances.  If your father is shot down in the street, you rush to his side and protect him, even if he’s a Mafia don and you can’t stand that part of him — that’s just what one does.

There is a scene somewhere in Act III of Quiz Show where The Son goes back home to ask The Dad for advice in his plight, and it’s the middle of the night, and The Dad is in his bathrobe, and the two men sit at the kitchen table and have some chocolate cake. And Ralph Fiennes and Scofield are wonderful in the scene, and director Robert Redford knows the lives of privileged WASPs like nobody’s business, and it’s a perfectly realized scene of WASPy father-son relations. And it all revolves around this chocolate cake, which symbolizes all the comforts and rights The Son has lost in straying from the True Path, and that cake in that scene is photographed so well, so dark and so light, so moist and so solid, so well photographed that it made me intensely nostalgic for some ideal lost piece of chocolate cake in my own wayward WASP life, and of course for the absence of a kind, wise, brilliant WASP father. Scofield in that scene became a kind of framework I could hang my notions of WASP fatherhood on, and someday, when my own full-grown son comes to my house in the middle of the night with a humiliating tale of dishonoring the family name by cheating on a quiz show, I hope to God I will have the foresight to have a perfectly-realized chocolate cake in sitting around nearby for comfort. And of course the wisdom Scofield so effortlessly conveyed.



9 Responses to “Paul Scofield”
  1. jbacardi says:

    Oh! That’s who Paul Scofield was! It’s only been a year or so since I saw A Man For All Seasons, so when I saw the name I drew a blank. He was really good in that film, one which I remember hearing about all the time when I was a kid.

    • ndgmtlcd says:

      He was too good in that film! I saw “The Train” a few years after seeing “A Man for All Seasons” and I just could not manage to believe that Thomas More was an evil nazi colonel who was getting away with a train full of French masterpieces.

      (Of course that film had other casting problems, like dropping in Burt Lancaster as a French Railway inspector, and that’s too bad because it was quite an exemplary action film)

  2. sheherazahde says:

    “a perfectly-realized chocolate cake”

    Just make sure you always have a Hershey’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake (made with Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa) on hand. Or at least an hour’s notice to make one.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Paul Scofield is the sort of actor who I always believe was in more movies than he really was. Anyone else get that feeling for an actor? Anyways, he was a pretty darn good actor, I loved him in A Man for All Seasons.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Steve Gerber, Heath Ledger, Gary Gygax, Anthony Minghella, Arthur C. Clarke, Dave Stevens, Mike Wiernigo, Scofield… …a lot of famous deaths three months in the year.

  5. greyaenigma says:

    The cake is a lie.

    Sorry. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

    R.I.P., Mr. Scofield. I did love Quiz Show.

  6. gazblow says:


    Is one of my favorite Scofield performances and one of the best productions of Shakespeare I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s possible to buy this but I recommend it to anyone who loves Scofield, Shakespeare, Peter Brook or movies even.