- Colin Fraser
TWO STARS The geriatric wing of the beloved 'Beth' hospital faces closure. Its patients, nurses, doctors and family disagree.
DRAMA UK English #ALLELUJAH
Starring Jennifer Saunders, Judi Dench
Beloved playwright Alan Bennett’s pre-pandemic tribute to hospitals, old people and the National Health Service has made its way to cinemas. Adapted by Call The Midwife’s Heidi Thomas and directed by Richard Eyre (the sensational NOTES ON A SCANDAL), it’s filled to overflowing with the best of British: Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders, David Bradley, Derek Jacobi and Russell Tovey among others. Expectation is set high, very high in fact.
Thus it is something of a surprise just how peculiar, and unsatisfying, ALLELUJAH turns out to be. Events take place in The Beth, a geriatric wing of a hospital faced with closure. Joe (Bradley) is one of its patients whose son (Tovey) is a money minder contracted by the government to shut it down. The wing is full of ‘characters who are kept in check by the iron rule of big-hearted Matron (Saunders). The set up bounces along with a more than a few bon mots and racy behaviour from the Gerrys while we wonder if The Beth, like its patients, will meet its maker.
So far so good, if you like your comedy-drama unchallenging and unrewarding. ALLELUJAH runs the routines, even if they’re frequently undercut by a wobbly tone and a general lack of interest in the old people the story purports to be caring about. Then when you think you’ve got a handle on how we’ll be escorted to the exits, events are further undercut by a sudden and savage twist in the third act, one that virtually sabotages everything that’s gone before. It’s then capped off with a truly berserk coda from The Beth’s good doctor and we’re left as bewildered as the poor old patients on the ward.
There are some good moments to be found among the wreckage, but quite what Thomas and Eyre were aiming at - a genial salute to health workers or a brutal take down of conservative politics - is impossible to say. One thing is certain, ALLELUJAH is neither.