Adapted from the Alan Bennet hospital ward based stage play Allelujah has been adapted for the big screen by Heidi Thomas who has a pedigree in hospital dramas having penned the TV series, ‘Call the Midwife’ something of a staple of Christmas Day TV that prompts us into wanting to ‘Call the TV Scheduler’. With an ensemble cast of thespian troopers headed up by Jennifer Saunders as the lead Sister Gilpin, a no nonsense nurse battling her way through bureaucracy whilst still managing to care for the patients on her geriatric ward. But the hospital is one marked for closure under government policy as its not cost efficient with its elderly patients ailments taking them in one inevitable direction only in much the same way as we hoped the Dignitas gift vouchers that we gave our Editor would (‘You’re fired!‘ – Ed)
It’s the government consultant Colin (Russel Tovey) a Department of Health bean counter who visits the hospital as part of a fact finding tour – a simpering hospital chairman is nicely played by Vincent Franklin – to compile and legitimize its being closed down. But his visit has a dual purpose as his ailing father Joe (David Bradley), who has never reconciled with the fact that his son is gay, is on the ward and its of little surprise how this particular plot thread will end for both characters. Bradley is splendidly cantankerous as is Derek Jacobi as a former teacher and balancing this out is Judi Dench in another role that in total is barely a few minutes long as a retired librarian. Finally filling out the repertory of respected stars is a barely recognisable Julia McKenzie as a dementia patient admitted to the ward much against her will but with her daughter and son in law at first seemingly concerned that the staff help her pull through this latest dementia episode until their ulterior money grasping reasons are revealed. Caring for all the patients is the sincere and perhaps idealistic Dr Valentine (Bally Gill) dedicated to the patients in his care and understandably wanting the hospital to remain open.
Allelujah has all the cast enjoyably watchable in what is for most of the film something of a cosy Sunday evening drama and there are moments of pathos and Alan Bennet’s unmistakeable comic quips but there’s a sudden unexpected lurch into thriller territory presumably inspired by notorious real life cases followed by a handbrake turn into a call to action that breaks the fourth wall and is wholly out of keeping with what has come before. Allelujah is something of a clarion call to saving the NHS and few can be in any doubt as to the great work done by the dedication of the many but as a film Allelujah works better as a gentle drama, than anything particularly radical.
related features : Why Judi Dench might not be making anymore films
related interview: Jenny Agutter & Sheridan Smith discuss The Railway Children Return
Here’s the Allelujah trailer….