Allelujah – Film Review

Directed by Richard Eyre and written by Heidi Thomas, Allelujah is based on a play by the prolific writer Alan Bennett. What appears first as a standard British comedy with familiar faces becomes something different entirely. A movie with a very strong message behind it on the importance of medical staff in increasingly trying times.

Drama and comedy are mixed well with Bennett‘s comedic wit being brought to film thanks to Thomas‘ screenplay. The medical field being familiar ground to Thomas, herself the creator and lead writer of the hugely popular BBC series, Call the Midwife.

I would have become a doctor instead of a film reviewer but unfortunately, I don’t have the patience. Fortunately, the medical staff of Bethlehem Hospital aka “The Beth” do. Things aren’t easy however as management consultant Colin Colman (Russell Tovey) is sent from London to make budget cuts to the NHS and potentially close The Beth. What he finds is a hospital already under the strain of overworked and underfunded infrastructure.

Nowhere is this seen more than in Dusty Springfield Ward, the colourfully named geriatric care ward. The Head nurse Sister Gilpin (Jennifer Saunders), soon to be awarded for her lifetime of providing care, faces a never-ending battle to free up beds for fast turnover. The current residents include an eclectic group of senior citizens each with their own story to tell.

Former teacher Mr Ambrose (Derek Jacobi) waxes poetics all day. One time librarian, Mary (Judy Dench) spends as little time in the spotlight as possible. While Joe Colman (David Bradley), Colin‘s father, was once a proud tally keeper at a mine, ensuring everyone who went down made it back up again. Overseeing their recovery is the ward’s aptly named Dr. Valentine (Bally Gill), who has a romantic view of the elderly and his own place in their lives. With The Beth’s possible closure imminent we’re given a brief window into the world of aged care which NHS bean counters often forget about.

Allelujah‘s greatest asset is in its earliest moments as it casts a wide net over the varied characters in Dusty Springfield Ward. A documentation crew are present in the lead up to the awards ceremony for Sister Gilpin. This allows for doctors, nurses, managers, and their patients to give their views on The Beth and the care it’s given their whole lives.

This is greatly assisted by an impressive roster of British talent both young and old. Bradley and Dench are always a treat to watch, with Bradley‘s rough but at the same time fragile character growing on me immensely as the film went on. Dench on the other hand in fitting with her character, is sometimes forgotten about amongst rest of the cast.

My two favourite performers here are Jacobi and Gill as both their characters love of poetry is reflected in their view of the world. Mr Ambrose brings us the film’s most touching scene tearfully reflecting on “the final visitor” that all elderly patients have eventually. While Dr Valentine is fittingly the heart of Allelujah. As a medical practitioner, while others see just a hospital bed he sees every single method of care that bed allows him to give.

As joyful as Allelujah‘s lighter moments are, I think the film may be controversial in just how dark it becomes. Allelujah feels like a movie trying to be two very different types of films at the same time. Worse still is just how bluntly the moral of the piece is relayed to the audience with any subtlety being completely thrown out the window by the end.

Allelujah is indeed an endearing film, however, it comes with a bit of an identity crisis. Some heavy moments which may have worked better on the stage fall flat when adapted to the silver screen. But what makes this film so enjoyable is its brilliant cast of characters going about their days. A slice of life dramedy looking at the healthcare system in its lowest moments but also its highest.

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