In the Bleak Midwinter (1995)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Showbiz Comedy  |   Release Date - Feb 9, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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After the success he achieved with Dead Again and Much Ado About Nothing was followed by the ego-driven disappointment Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh regrouped with A Midwinter's Tale, the story of a ragged acting troupe brought together by an out-of-work actor for a Christmas production of Hamlet. Following the line that simpler is better, Branagh keeps everything very low-key, even shooting in black-and-white as a symbolic throwback to the days when films were not big-budget extravaganzas. Although Branagh does not appear in the film, his presence permeates the plot and characters. Many have compared him to Orson Welles for his work in bringing Shakespeare to film, but this particular film harkens closer to Woody Allen in its approach and subtlety. It's a tribute to anyone who has ever suffered for their love of the theatre, and Branagh manages a few clever tweaks on the familiar "let's put on a show" themes. Michael Maloney is Joe Harper, the stand-in for Branagh. A talented actor, Joe struggles with making the transition to films at the expense of his craft. Joan Collins, the most recognizable name and face to American audiences, phones in a stereotypical performance as Joe's agent. The acting troupe itself is filled with a talented group of comedic actors, led by BBC staple John Sessions, who plays the drag queen cast as Gertrude in Joe's Hamlet. Gerard Horan also turns in a nice performance as the man cast as both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It's difficult to watch this film without feeling like a spectator to Branagh's therapy sessions, and considering that his follow-up project was a four-hour film version of Hamlet, obviously it worked.