20220925 175332

‘Allelujah’ Review: Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders in Melodramatic Tribute to Britain’s National Health Service

thehourlynews 3 weeks ago 0
20220925 175332

As a kind of cinematographic equivalent of the vault of the Tower of London where the Crown jewels are stored, the adaptation from stage to screen Hallelujah stacks a series of “national treasures” on top of each other: a screenplay based on a 2018 play by national treasure Alan Bennett (the madness of the king Jorge); an ensemble cast featuring such cherished national stars as Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi and Jennifer Saunders; directed by celebrated theater and film veteran Richard Eyre (Iris, Notes on a scandal) and so. It all boils down to a story about the institution every Briton loves to love and regret in equal measure, the NHS. What could go wrong?

At the risk of my UK residence permit being revoked, I am sad to report that Hallelujah the movie is something of a disappointment. It is not bad as such, but it’s a kind of heavy mess, nutritious but overly spiced with melodramatic elements, not unlike a hospital meal. Even his testy centre-left politics, championing the NHS as a deeply flawed but noble cause threatened by venal, bean-counting management consultants, seems outdated in the wake of the COVID crisis, which has changed the political landscape.


The bottom line

Choppy if well intentioned.

Event: Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations)
To emit: Jennifer Saunders, Bally Gill, David Bradley, Russell Tovey, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench
Director: Richard Eyer
Screenwriter: Heidi Thomas, based on the play by Alan Bennett

1 hour 39 minutes

After all that hoopla during lockdown, it seems like a real betrayal to suggest that there may be rampant inefficiencies, ineptitude, and even bad intentions within individual hospitals and health trusts, which is the goal of Bennett’s final act with its shocking revelation.

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That said, the filmmakers seem to have realized that the twist as written in the original play would land awkwardly now, so a postscript that takes place around 2020 and packs a melancholy punch has been wisely added. The addition is one of the smartest moves in the adaptation from screenwriter Heidi Thomas (call the midwife); The official-type expansion keeps many of the one-liners of Bennett’s original, but eschews the more magical touches, such as the use of an on-stage choir from old singing standards, to create something more like traditional realism, worthy but boring of. the BBC. .

Filmed in real hospital rooms and corridors in Wakefield and London, the film version keeps Bennett’s plot bones intact, with only a few prosthetics and adjustments. A fictional hospital somewhere in the north, the Bethlehem, nicknamed Beth, is a local hospital for the local population. Unfortunately, that’s not what the current government – the same old monsters we still have in power in the UK today – want for the NHS, obsessed as they are with specialization, consolidation and other efficiency-related buzzwords. .

By sheer coincidence, management consultant Colin Coleman (Russell Tovey) has been advising his boss, the Minister of Health, to close down the Beth despite the fact that his own father, Joe (David Bradley), has recently been transferred to his home. geriatric ward to treat some infections. .

While Colin pays a duty call to see Joe, an angry ex-miner who homophobically disdains his openly gay son’s lifestyle in London, various staff and management learn of Colin’s power and try to persuade him to Hail Beth. Salter (Vincent Franklin), CEO of Preening, is less persuasive than the medical staff on the ground and Colin can see that he is doing his best to help people.

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That’s especially true of Valentine (Bally Gill), an Indian-born doctor (his real name is Valiyaveetil, but he changed it to make it easier for Brits), who genuinely cares about his patients. Just as hard-working, but less effusive and emotional with discomfort, is the ward’s head nurse, Sister Gilpin (Saunders), who is nearing retirement. The hospital plans to honor her with a medal for her years of service, which is why a local camera crew embedded itself in the men’s and women’s geriatric wards to record daily life there, a scheme Salter hopes will help change opinion. public and stop the shutdown.

As in the original play, the focus shifts back and forth between the traveling characters and the mostly bedridden old men, the latter forming an amusingly eclectic group that includes aging party girls like Lucille (Marlene Sidaway), bombastic ex-school teacher Ambrose (Jacobi), and quiet, observant retired librarian Mary (Dench, apparently channeling Stephen Root into office space to create a squirrel portrait).

Compared to the cheery, smiling retirees typical of Hollywood movies and TV, people here are a cranky, moody, and often smelly bunch, almost always complaining if they’re sane enough to do so. “Even old people don’t like old people,” someone says at one point, and you have to admit there’s some truth to it.

Hallelujah it is at its best when it accentuates the scathing, but sometimes a certain sentimentality creeps in. Truth be told, this isn’t some of Bennett’s best work compared to, shall we say, bars as high as her script for prick up your ears, play like the boys in the story either The lady in the van or the abundant and reliably insightful journalism he has written over the years for the likes of The London Book Review and other outlets.

This play and movie, on the other hand, feels more sketchy and predictable, its characters mostly mouthpieces for old warhorses the author likes to ride. But given its 88-year-old status as a national treasure, we can surely overlook the flaws of this late work.

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