Film Review: Britannia Hospital (15)

PUBLISHED: 09:40 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:40 18 June 2020

Britannia Hospital by Lindsay Anderson (1982) out now on Indicator Powerhouse Films

Britannia Hospital by Lindsay Anderson (1982) out now on Indicator Powerhouse Films

Archant

Lindsay Anderson’s scathing but unwieldy satire in which a crumbling NHS hospital is a microcosm of our nation’s failings, seems timely now

Britannia Hospital by Lindsay Anderson (1982) out now on Indicator Powerhouse FilmsBritannia Hospital by Lindsay Anderson (1982) out now on Indicator Powerhouse Films

Reviled on its release during the Falklands War, Lindsay Anderson’s scathing satire in which an NHS hospital is a microcosm of our nation’s failings, may seem timely now.

A chaotic, crumbling hospital gears up for a visit from the Queen Mum as striking unionists picket the gates to protest about an African dictator staying in the private wing and a mad scientist (Crowden) prepares to unveil his world-changing project.

This sprawling, unwieldy creation has 75 speaking parts, at least half of which are filled by someone famous (Arthur Lowe, Alan Bates and Mark Hamill pop up) or by someone you recognise because they were, or would go on to be, in that thing.

It is blunt, sledgehammer stuff but then the early 80s were blunt, sledgehammer times. The crazed frenzy of its assault on everything that crosses its path is what you connect with. It doesn’t have a good word for anyone.

Seen today, the fierce union-bashing comes across as a bit Tory, but back then the Winter of Discontent was still a fresh and bitter memory.

Anderson and scriptwriter David Sherwin couldn’t have imagined how quickly and comprehensively the unions would be smashed in the years after it came out.

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When one union leader proclaims, “the old days are gone forever – Britannia belongs to the people now,” it is one of the few lines that isn’t meant to be ironic.

Time has been kind to it: now we appreciate all the marvellous and mostly departed talents involved that bit more. You couldn’t exactly call it nostalgic but it is oddly comforting.

If you despair that the world has never been in such a wretched position; that Britain has been revealed to be a tinpot hovel that is being run rings round by the rest of the world yet clings to a deluded sense of its importance: well, it turns out we were always like that.

And somehow we’ve bumbled along this far. Who knows, we may even have a few years left in us yet. On its release some of the snider reviews complained that the humour was low brow, but that’s exactly as it should be: British history is a series of Carry On films that we never tire of.

4/5 stars

Starring: Leonard Rossiter, Graham Crowden, Brian Pettifer, Fulton Mackay, Jill Bennett, Joan Plowright, Robin Askwith and Malcolm McDowell.

Out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Indicator Powerhouse Films on June 29th.

Running time: 112 mins.

Go to wwwhalfmanhalfcritic for a review of De Palma’s 70s thriller Obsession, available on BFI Player.


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