After the monstrous hubris of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Branagh was wise to get back to basics with this unpretentious backstage comedy, and to cede the limelight to a stand-in. That said, Maloney's actor-director Joe Harper is irresistibly Branagh-esque. A passionate apostle of Shakespeare, Joe's determined to mount his own production of Hamlet, even if it means the last of his meagre savings and a mere week's rehearsal in a rundown country church. With the help of his agent (Collins), he rounds up a group of unlikely thespians desperate enough to work for nothing over Christmas (Briers, Farrell, Sawalha). Shot quickly and cheaply, this is Branagh's most modest film, and his most successful. This is not to say there aren't irritations: too many of the jokes have seen better days, and the sit-com characterisations can't support the director's increasingly sentimental designs on them. Still, Branagh knows his way round an ensemble, his screenplay combines heartfelt commitment to the theatre with a healthy degree of self-mockery, and the film is crisply photographed in b/w. A palpable hit.