Bethlehem Hospital is the legendary establishment which gave rise to the phrase “bedlam” – its title has been reapplied, with out apparent irony, to a fictional geriatric hospital in Yorkshire for this mild, shrewd ensemble comedy, tailored by screenwriter Heidi Thomas from the much-admired 2018 stage play by Alan Bennett with a brand new Covid-aware coda bolted on to the tip. Richard Eyre directs with a positive hand.
The “Beth” is a small neighborhood facility which has attracted donations from celebrities after whom numerous elements of the constructing are named: the movie is usually set within the Shirley Bassey ward. However it’s dealing with closure from hardfaced Whitehall bean-counters who need large cost-efficient hospitals or glitzy “centres of excellence” with measurable success charges. Humble, unglamorous geriatric care is nevertheless about susceptible sufferers who’re heading only one method, and their remedy crucially includes kindness and compassion which don’t have anything to do with the underside line.
Russell Tovey performs Colin, a Division of Well being advisor with exactly these prejudices who has to come back and go to his ailing ex-miner dad Joe (David Bradley) on the Beth, a cantankerous previous man who has by no means been capable of settle for his son’s id as a homosexual man. There are not any prizes for guessing if Colin’s angle to each the hospital and his dad goes to thaw – and certainly his preliminary, shrill attachment to the federal government line is reasonably broadly written.
Elsewhere on the ward, Judi Dench performs Mary, a retired librarian with a ardour for cataloguing reasonably than books, however a eager curiosity in marginalia: the readers’ revealing scribbles together with the web page. Extra genuinely bookish is the haughty former instructor Ambrose (he prefers the vintage phrase “schoolmaster”) performed by Derek Jacobi who broods over the Charles Causley poem Ten Varieties Of Hospital Customer. Julia McKenzie is a lady with dementia whose daughter and son-in-law are determined to maintain her alive for just a few extra months for inheritance tax causes (once more, a barely broad characterisation, which could have labored higher on stage than on display screen). Jesse Akele is the indomitably cheerful Nurse Pinkney. Bally Gill performs the genuinely caring Dr Valentine and Jennifer Saunders is the formidable, no-nonsense ward sister Gilpin who runs a decent ship.
Maybe the considered a veteran Brit character-actor lineup in a care setting is just a little mawkish, and I by the way nonetheless have grim reminiscences of Dustin Hoffman’s unsufferably patronising 2012 film Quartet with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon.
However this watchable, undemanding drama rolls alongside capably, enlivened by unmistakably Bennettian gags and drolleries which come alongside each minute or so. Marvelling at a brand new invention known as an iPad, Dench’s librarian purrs: “It’s no thicker than a month-to-month periodical!” Colin asks the work expertise child (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) wheeling round a trolley of large-print books: “Do you wish to really feel my ft?” The sullen teen replies: “It’s not high of my record.”
The ostensible function and which means of the movie is after all to proclaim the worth of the NHS, though you may argue that this religion is barely deflected or undermined by the massive narrative reveal – impressed by well-attested actual life instances. However the brand new Covid part on the finish, with its surprising pivot to drama and disaster, works effectively sufficient. A low-key, enticing, if minor Alan Bennett.
Allelujah screened on the Toronto film festival and is launched on 17 March in UK and Eire.