The Bard stops here: Branagh’s Shakespearean spoof A Midwinter’s Tale to be screened at UNCSA

by Mark Burger


With movies in mind and the holiday season upon us, the School of Filmmaking at the UNC School of the Arts has a wide-screen yuletide treat in store for film fanatics: a special screening of Kenneth Branagh’s acclaimed, awardwinning 1995 comedy A Midwinter’s Tale.

The screening takes place at 7 p.m. this Saturday in the Main Theatre of the ACE Exhibition Complex, on the UNCSA campus (1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem).

Michael Maloney, who appeared in Branagh’s 1989 screen version of Henry V and would subsequently appear in the director’s epic 1996 adaptation of Hamlet, stars as Joe Harper, an unemployed thirtysomething thespian who tries to save his sister’s church by staging a low-rent (and possibly unwise) adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as its Christmas pageant.

With only a handful of actors at his disposal to enact this production, Joe proceeds to give them multiple roles — even those who don’t display much aptitude playing one role — and is determined to carry it off, even with the odds stacked against him. One way or the other — but not as anyone expected — the show must go on, and will!

Filmed in black and white and financed out of Branagh’s own pocket, A Midwinter’s Tale is an affectionate ode to the art of acting, the magic of the theater and his longstanding admiration for the works of William Shakespeare, as well as his own experiences in repertory.

Many of the film’s cast members were old friends and colleagues of Branagh’s, some from his student days at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and were, in fact, veterans of many a Shakespearean production: Richard Briers, Nicholas Farrell, Julia Sawalha, John Sessions, Celia Imrie and Mark Hadfield. Jennifer Saunders (of “Absolutely Fabulous”) and Joan Collins (as Joe’s disapproving agent) round out the cast of this warm and wacky comedy, which is rated R for sexual innuendo and profanity.

Originally titled In the Bleak Midwinter, A Midwinter’s Tale earned Branagh the Golden Osella award at the 1995 Venice Film Festival, and also earned a Golden Lion nomination. The film wasn’t widely distributed in the US yet earned its share of critical plaudits.

“The film, whose tone is set by Noel Coward’s hilarious anti-show-business song Why Must the Show Go On?, starts off as an amusing free-for-all spoof of the acting profession and eventually turns into a comic valentine to diehard thespian dedication,” wrote Stephen Holden of the New York Times.

“Branagh has gathered a deft cast and has written a largely intelligent, campy, witty and sniping script that sends up the vanities of the acting profession,” noted Barbara Shulgasser of the San Francisco Chronicle, while Hal Hinson of the Washington Post added: “[T]here are so many laughs here, so much theatrical temperament on display, that you can’t help but embrace the picture.”

This screening marks the latest in the ongoing series The Big Screen: Treasures from the UNCSA Moving Image Archive, presented by the School of Filmmaking and the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit student scholarships at the School of Filmmaking.

Tickets are $8 (general admission), $2 for UNCSA students (with valid ID). For more information, check out