.

A Midwinter's Tale

Michael Maloney, Richard Briers, Hetta Charnley

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
February 16, 1996

After his wretched excess as the star and director of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh wisely turns to a small-scale but sincere salute to whatever it is that makes actors act. Oddly, the star of Henry V and Othello doesn't appear in the film. He confines his duties to writing and directing this warmly comic tale of seven ragtag thes-pians gathered in a drafty English church to mount a quickie production of Hamlet – for which the Bard wrote 24 roles.

Branagh has previously worked with most of the cast, which enhances the film's cozy family feeling. Michael Maloney is first rate as Joe Harper, an out-of-work actor who is so busy pressing his agent, Margaretta D'Arcy (an archly funny Joan Collins), for movie and TV deals that he fears he may be selling out. To restore his faith, Joe cobbles together a Christmas production of Hamlet, with himself as the Danish prince. Since the elite of the theater world aren't lining up to rehearse and live for three weeks in an old church, Joe must rely on enthusiastic amateurs. John Sessions plays Gertrude in campy drag. Julia Sawalha is a ditz-queen Ophelia. Gerard Horan doubles as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And Richard Briers, Mark Had-field and Nicholas Farrel do triple duty – at least. Also along is Joe's sister (Hetta Charnley), who cooks and sells tickets. Celia Imrie is hilarious as a costume designer who can't decide how to dress the cast until opening night.

Things rip along merrily, especially when a Hollywood agent, acidly sent up by AbFab's Jennifer Saunders, stirs up the actors' greedier ambitions. Art, of course, triumphs. It's funny and touching to watch Branagh cheer these humble players. What hurts is the sloppy-weepy stuff he lays on at the end – shades of his dreadful Peter's Friends. Tears seem a bit thick when you learn that Branagh is now doing a film of Hamlet, starring himself and an all-star cast, including Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. So much for faith restored.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Try a Little Tenderness”

    Otis Redding | 1966

    This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com