British helmer Kenneth Branagh’s new feature, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” will bow in competition at next month’s Venice Film Festival.

The independently financed and produced, low-budget black-and-white comedy is reportedly closest in style and spirit to Branagh’s 1992 feature, “Peter’s Friends.”

The new pic centers on an out-of-work Shakespearean troupe attempting to mount an alternative production of “Hamlet” in an unused church in the English countryside.

Cast includes Michael Maloney as the young legit director and Joan Collins as the impresario behind the enterprise. Jennifer Saunders and Julia Sawalha of hit BBC sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous” also star. Director Branagh does not appear in the film.

Castle Rock is tipped to back Branagh’s next actor-director outing as “Hamlet,” due to start shooting early in 1996.

In a separate Venice development, negotiations are believed to be underway for Jodie Foster to be a member of the international competition jury. The complete lineup for the Aug. 30-Sept. 9 event is expected to be announced July 28.

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