“I’m clean, I’m conscientious and I travel with my own tits”
Where else would you get to see Adrian Scarborough’s Richard III but in passing in a random Kenneth Branagh backstage movie. His movie as a director in which he does not star, A Midwinter’s Tale (or In The Bleak Midwinter as it appears to be known in some places) is a rather sweet comedy that makes for a light-hearted take on the often-time serious Shakespeare for which he was getting increasingly known.
Though fun, it is an acutely observed look at the itinerant life of an actor and the different ways in which people deal with its stresses. Unemployed for a year, Michael Maloney’s Joe offers to help out his sister’s local church by mounting a Christmas production of Hamlet, gathering a cast of similar odds and sods who are also available at the last minute. And together, even with the copious issues this motley crew bring with them, theatrical magic somehow begins to bloom.
Written by Branagh with various of these actors in mind, the film balances its serious consideration of what it means to be an actor, not just for oneself but for one’s loved ones, with a deliciously sharp sense of wit, poking fun at any manner of luvvie pretensions. Whether Richard Briers’ Henry passing as a Shakespearean veteran simply because he’s old, Nicholas Farrell’s Tom fighting over every one of his cut lines or Celia Imrie’s designer Fadge unable to commit to a decision, it is all wittily done.
Joan Collins as Joe’s agent and Jennifer Saunders as a Hollywood producer boosts the name recognition but it is the quality of the cast that really allows the writing to shine through – John Sessions’ old queen Terry revealing aching personal stories, Gerard Horan’s Carnforth unable to admit his drinking problem or Michael Maloney’s Joe running around trying to make it all work whilst also tackling the lead role, A Midwinter’s Tale actually becomes quietly moving as well as noisily funny.