American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"A Midwinter's Tale" may not sound like a cheery title for a comedy, but reflect that when I saw the film the first time, at the Venice Film Festival, it was titled "In the Bleak Midwinter." Nor is the subject matter promising: A poverty-stricken group of has-been and would-be British actors band together to put on a Christmas play in a cold, drafty old church. The play they choose is, somehow inevitably, "Hamlet." And yet this is the kind of movie you can settle down with.
Populated mostly with unfamiliar faces and photographed in black and white, it's like one of those 1950s British comedies that assumed the audience was paying attention. It's about characters and dialogue.
The writer and director, Kenneth Branagh, has toured with his own troupe of Shakespeareans, and so he knows first-hand some of the problems of personality conflict, ego with or without talent, and grim living conditions.
The movie stars Michael Maloney as Joe Harper, an actor who feels he is adrift and must make a dramatic gesture to reclaim his soul. So he determines to put on a holiday production of "Hamlet" in a small provincial town. His agent is played by Joan Collins (somehow my fingers, with minds of their own, continue typing, and spell out "of all people"). She thinks it's a bad idea. Well, it is.