A Midwinter’s Tale

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenwriters: Kenneth Branagh

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Kenneth Branagh, the Irish-born director and actor whose film versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V and Much Ado about Nothing have secured his reputation in the United States as the consummate modern “realizateur” of the bard on film, takes a 180-degree turn with this marvelously witty and madcap film about an amateur English theatrical troupe attempting to stage Hamlet.

A struggling professional, writer/actor Joe Harper, charmingly played by newcomer Michael Maloney, pins his finding dreams of securing a real career on a Christmas-season production of Hamlet. The production has extremely limited resources, however, and auditions held at the last moment and promising little professional renumeration attract the sort of eccentric losers that remind one of the unique marginality that sometimes is the theatre (shades of Noises Off). With only six actors to play the roles of twenty-four, adjustments have to be made; what it comes down to is the queen stays a queen, and other parts are simply combined or eliminated.

With rapid-fire humor and repartee that is only rarely written this well, Branagh shapes his drama into a wonderfully sophisticated spoof of everything from acting too theatrical stage design. Setting Hamlet literally in a church in a small English village named Hope and outfitting it with a gloriously excessive cast of characters make an ideal formula for the kind of knowing comedy that Europeans have always done so well. Alternately sweet, even poignant, and then wonderfully nasty and acerbic, A Midwinter’s Tale is a delicious romp that “debates” theatre, art, community, and of course life. With Joan Collins and Jennifer Saunders ftom the hit British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous,” this is a hilarious odyssey that will touch all our hearts.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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