Based on the 2018 Alan Bennett play of the same name, Allelujah is a stinging attack on the mismanagement of the NHS by the government and a pointed comment specifically on care of the elderly, a topic that is as relevant now as it was 5 years ago when the play premiered.
The story takes place predominantly at The Beth, a cottage hospital in Wakefield, on the Dusty Springfield (aka Geriatric) Ward within, overseen by Dr Valentine (played by Bally Gill) who ‘loves old people,’ and Sister Gilpin (Jennifer Saunders) who runs a tight ship and is soon to be awarded a medal for long service. The hospital is at risk of closure, so the Chair of the Board and the volunteer fundraisers have arranged for a local news crew to come and interview everyone in order to raise awareness of their plight and help to keep the hospital open.
The script has been adapted for the screen by Heidi Thomas, chief pen-wielder on Call the Midwife, yet this lacks the nuance of that show, sadly, so that the denouement comes out of left-field and is then wrapped up in a few lines; and the Covid monologue performed by a weary Dr Valentine at the end of the film is heartfelt but adds to the sense that we are being clubbed around the head with the film’s intent throughout.
The stellar main cast, including Julia McKenzie, David Bradley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench, Vincent Franklin and Russell Tovey, put in committed performances, though some of the players around the edges are less believable; and the work experience role feels tagged on for the sake of it. It is great to see Jennifer Saunders in a serious role, though her character development is the most questionable.
Coming in at under two hours, it’s an unusually short film for these times, though if you were to watch the trailer and go in expecting The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on a hospital ward then you would be badly mistaken. With behemoths like Richard Eyre directing and Nicholas Hytner producing, you could be forgiven for expecting more. It’s a dark drama with moments of humour, but it feels like there were too many lost opportunities to create a cohesive piece of comedic drama befitting the previous successes of Bennett’s stage to screen transfers.
Plenty of stars but the ending jars – ★★★ 3 stars