CINEMA: SWEET SILLINESS

KENNETH BRANAGH UPDATES THE OLD PUT-ON-A-SHOW FABLE

THE TIME IS CHRISTMAS. THE PLACE, a disused church deep in the English provinces. The characters, half a dozen profoundly marginalized show folks determined to put on a play. Not just any play, mind you--Hamlet is what Joe Harper (Michael Maloney), their director-producer-star, has maxed out his credit cards to mount.

Movies like this used to have lots of singing and dancing, not to mention Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. But if you love show-biz fables in which the desperate improvisations of sweet-souled egomaniacs are rewarded by improbable last-minute success, writer-director Kenneth Branagh's A Midwinter's Tale is a very acceptable update....

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