Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Small and perfectly formed

An eerily precise impersonation of the maverick genius that was Orson Welles is the most immediately remarkable aspect of this handsome and engaging film. But the big performance - by Christian McKay, an Englishman who is a dead ringer for the young Welles - doesn't overshadow the small and perfectly formed backstage drama that is hinted at by the title.

In New York in 1937, the 21-year-old prodigy staged a landmark production of Julius Caesar in which the costumes evoked the uniforms of the Nazis and Fascists, then casting a shadow across Europe. Scenes recreating that production are fascinating in themselves, and we get a good sense of the swaggering ambition - equal parts eccentricity, recklessness and arrogance - that made Welles what he was. This is the man who hired an ambulance for transport so he could catnap between appointments and who would later say "I started at the top and worked my way down".

Our eyes and ears on all this are those of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron, perfectly cast), a stagestruck 17-year-old who lands a small role in the new production. He gets to gawp at legends in the making - Joseph Cotten, John Houseman (Mike Leigh regular Eddie Marsan) - and fall for Sonja (Claire Danes gives a typically generous and instinctual performance), a production assistant with her own ambitions.

What unfolds is a valentine to a bygone age that displays the love, verging on reverence, that director and ensemble have for what they are depicting. It's also the sunniest and most heartfelt film about the theatre since Shakespeare in Love.

Cast: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Eddie Marsan
Director: Richard Linklater
Running time: 114 mins
Rating: PG (coarse language)