In The Bleak Midwinter (1995 with Joan Collins and Richard Briers)

UK / 1995 / Filmed in Black and White

Director and Writer: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Michael Maloney, Richard Briers, Joan Collins, Julia Sawalha, Nick Farrell, Gerard Horan, John Sessions, Celia Imrie, Hetta Charnley

The play’s the thing in Kenneth Branagh’s sixth film as director, a highly affectionate look at a group of actors determined to make a crisis out of a drama when they stage a charity performance of Hamlet in a disused church. The motley troupe is led by Joe (Michael Maloney), who assembles a diverse range of actors to back up what he hopes will be a showcase for his own talents.

Among the thesps brushing up their Shakespeare are young hopeful (and hopelessly myopic) Nina (Julia Sawalha), embittered old ham Henry (Richard Briers), camper than Christmas Terry (John Sessions) and New Man Tom (Nick Farrell). Joan Collins also appears as Joe’s despairing agent, while Celia Imrie is Fadge, the play’s put-upon designer. As the production struggles to take shape, the old dictum that it’ll be all right on the night seems like distinctly wishful thinking.

Branagh called his film “a celebration of actors and acting. [It] is very teasing about them, doesn’t shirk but does genuinely celebrate the mad camaraderie that can be life-enhancing at best and terribly self-indulgent at worst.” Having been savaged by the critics for his previous work, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , he received a warmer reception for this swiftly-shot, low budget movie. Empire thought the film was “Branagh’s most pleasing work to date,” while Brigit Grant in the Sunday Express said, “I loved this film. The witty dialogue, ultra-sensitive egos and general air of pandemonium are accurately represented.” The Daily Telegraph called it a “beguiling comedy,” while the Guardian praised it for being “shrewdly written and well played. There isn’t a real weakness in the cast.”

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