In the Bleak Midwinter (also known as A Midwinter's Tale) is a 1995 British romantic comedy written and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Many of the roles in the film were written for specific actors. This was the first film directed by Branagh in which he did not appear.
The film begins with a monologue by out-of-work actor Joe Harper (Michael Maloney) about his slow decline into depression. In an attempt to beat his depression, Joe volunteers to help try to save his sister's local church from land developers for the community by putting on a Christmas production of Hamlet, somewhat against the advice of his agent Margaretta. As the cast he assembles are still available even at Christmas and are prepared to do it on a 'profit sharing' basis (that is, they may not get paid anything), he cannot expect – and does not get – the cream of the cream. But although they all bring their own problems and foibles along, something bigger starts to emerge in the perhaps aptly named village of Hope. This film encapsulates the hilarious and heartbreaking struggle of actor versus situation versus life, and often versus each other. It was shot in black and white for artistic effect.
Maloney, Richard Briers and Nicholas Farrell later had important roles in Branagh's 1996 film version of Hamlet. They played Laertes, Polonius and Horatio respectively.
The story is set in Hope, Derbyshire, England. It's Christmastime, and 'tis the season to put on Shakespeare's most cheery seasonal play: Hamlet. Joe Harper takes the project on as a Final Stand of sorts under the encouragement of his catty agent, advertising in the local newspaper for actors at a low price. From the rabble of actors both strange and untalented, he chooses the following: