Allelujah | Review


One can only imagine the gallows humour that was banded around the set of Allelujah. The film adapts Alan Bennett’s eponymous play and comes directed by Notes on a Scandal’s Richard Eyre. It creams the upper crop of Britain’s most beloved veteran thespians and devotes just shy of a hundred minutes to reminding each that they’re nearer death than birth. Charming. A good job all involved boast a well honed sense of humour. Certainly, a cast so glittering can’t help but warm the cockles. And yet, an excess of worthy point-making can’t help but weigh down the film’s featherlight flurries.

For more than one reason, Allelujah recalls the last decade’s craze for wrinkly ensemble prestige. The cozy sort championed by John Madden’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel duo and suffocated in saccharine by Dustin Hoffman’s Maggie Smith starring Quartet. It’s another chamber piece affair. A commiserating celebration of the perils and privilege of old age. An affliction threatened by all but benefiting those who seek wisdom and experience in their arsenal. That’s all part and parcel here.

The film’s setting is Wakefield and the city’s fictional Bethlehem hospital – known locally as ‘the Beth’ – a preposterously person-centric hub in an increasingly corporate world. Jennifer Saunders is Sister Gilpin, nurse commander of the hospital’s Shirley Bassey ward and formidable opponent of unplanned urination. Her subordinates include Jesse Akele’s unfathomably cheerful Nurse Pinckney and Louis Ashbourne Serkis’ semi-gormless Andy, a work experience placement gifted bizarre levels of responsibility. One level up is Bally Gill’s rather lovely Dr. Valentine, an old-fogaphile, with a penchant for geriatric tlc. He, above all, is horrified by the present government’s intention to close the whole shebang, in favour of more cost-effective ‘centres of excellence’.

But what of the patients themselves? Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, David Bradley, Julia McKenzie… All here, all present and correct. All ever so slightly underused. Adapting the script, Heidi Thomas cherry picks the best of Bennett’s observational witticisms but is perhaps wanting in regards to rounding out the humanity behind the humour. Allelujah is a very funny film, particularly in it’s first half, but veers away from the bouncy bon vive in its second. As the saying goes, the personal is political and the personal can, indeed, be politicised but the pervasive sense here is that the Allelujah’s joyful personalities are mere props for a purpose.

What opens as a wry character piece soon morphs into statement cinema, with thirteen years of Conservatism the obvious target. Russell Tovey plays management consultant Colin, a government stooge whose grand idea it was to close the Beth. As positions go, it’s a touch unlikely – Colin’s own father (Bradley) is a patient there – but no less so than the inevitable change of heart that will surely come. Even as his character is exposed to a litany of blatant, albeit clearly unintentional, examples of malpractice. One further, and rather bleak, twist occurs in the film’s final bow, doing only to confusion the overarching message. Long live the NHS?

Where the film finds surer footing is in the inane and quaint and the minutiae of linguistic aphorism. On promising to pass on the love of his partner to his father, Colin asides ‘he’s never known what to do with mine.’ Later, Dench’s mild mannered Mary will gawp at a newfangled iPad – ‘it’s no thicker than a monthly periodical! – while Bradley’s Joe grumbles about the rampant local disinterest in his penis. It’s true charm when the crux of a film hinges on marginalia and far more politically astute to allow those who revel in it to exploit all that lies within the lines than to type in bold.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s