A Midwinter's Tale

* * * 1/2*

Thoroughly enjoyable comedy about the antics of a makeshift English theater troupe. Michael Maloney plays Joe Harper, a struggling English filmmaker. He decides to stage a Christmas-time production of Hamlet to raise money and save a failing church. He manages to drag together six other actors, who, along with himself, will portray the twenty-four speaking roles in Hamlet. Among the troupe are a veteran actor (Richard Briers), who portrays Claudius, a drag queen (John Sessions) who was dying to play Queen Gertrude, and an unorthodox young actress (Julia Sawalha) as Ophelia. Kenneth Branagh's script crackles with wit and humor. As well, his direction provides ample comic flair (though filming in black and white smacks of pretentiousness). The humor runs the gamut from slapstick to wordplay, and falters only when the film pauses to focus on a more somber topic. Luckily, such pauses are few, and on the whole, A Midwinter's Tale is a delightful film.

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