Saturday, August 8, 2009

Act I Scene 1 - A Midwinter's Tale

Kenneth Branagh's A Midwinter's Tale (or A Bitter Midwinter, for UK audiences) is our second "play within a play", and as with Slings & Arrows, I'll try to focus only on the performance of the play within the movie, and not on the rehearsal scenes (which are mostly played for laughs anyway). Not to say that the performance doesn't have its own whimsy. Apologies in advance for the quality of the screencaps - the film isn't on DVD yet and I'm resorting to taking pictures directly off my cathode tube television.

Midwinter shows us very short snippets of the scenes, but enough to make a point with the staging, and uses its black and white film stock to good, moody effect. The church where the play is acted acts as a natural stage and Gothic setting, though in the first scene, it is filled with a thick fog that then tends to linger in the closed space. One thing this staging of the play isn't is easy on the audience (a reasonable effect to want to achieve, actually). Despite the medieval feel of the church, the costumes are world war era, and so Bernardo walks onstage with a machine gun.A machine gun he fires over the audience's heads as they all crouch in fear. Shakespeare has a knack for waking up his audience with the play's opening words, but "Who's there?" has never been so shocking. This is a Denmark so unstable, it might shoot you first and ask its questions later.

Played for comedy, sure, but still offers a potable staging if you were to do it yourself.

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