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Film / In the Bleak Midwinter

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"I'd always wanted to live my life in an old movie, sort of a fairytale, you know. Mind you, I suppose if you think that most fairytales turn out to be nightmares and a lot of old movies are crap, then that's what I did."

In the Bleak Midwinter (released in the United States as A Midwinter's Tale) is a 1995 black-and-white film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Having just finished directing and starring in his epic adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the previous year, and preparing to direct and star in his even more epic adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet the following year, Branagh decided to spend the time he had in between directing but not starring in a not-so-epic original story of his own writing, and this is that little picture.

It centers on an out-of-work actor named Joe Harper (Michael Maloney), who is having a crisis and so decides to stage a Christmastime production of Hamlet directed by and starring himself, to raise money for a church in his hometown that is being threatened by developers. He gathers a gang of loony cast- and crew-mates and Hilarity Ensues.


This film provides examples of:

  • Author Filibuster: Nina's big speech to Joe when he is about to leave before opening night. The fact that it is very transparently Branagh speaking actually work in its favor though, since it is a bit corny and cliched and works better coming from a writer who you know means it. Julia Swalha's tear-jerking delivery helps too.
  • Mood Whiplash: While Joe's breakdown scene ends with a heartwarming moment, it's still so sad that when a few seconds later we cut to a happy montage set to "Why Must the Show Go On?", the effect can be a bit jarring.
  • Stylistic Suck: The production of Hamlet staged by an out-of-work actor Joe, directed by and starring himself. It's pretty pathetic, but the on-screen audience loves it.
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  • Talking Heads: The heartbreaking scene where Terry tells Henry about his son goes on for several minutes showing only the two characters standing and talking. It doesn't become boring a single second.
  • Titled After the Song: In this case, the song is a famous English Christmas carol from a poem by Christina Rossetti. An acoustic arrangement of the Gustav Holst setting of the poem is a repeated musical theme throughout the movie.