Britannia Hospital

Posted in Films > Films A-Z > A-M > B is for... > Britannia Hospital | 6 Comments »
1982

Ever felt this country was a bit like a big, knackered, corrupt old NHS hospital? Top left-wing master of despair Lindsay Anderson has! Britain’s king of the shrill satirical scream had put Malcolm MacDowell through his paces in the school revolution of If… (1968) and the rambling picaresque O Lucky Man! (1970), and finally dismembered him in this medical farce in which Britain becomes a crumbling, strike-hit state health establishment, coping with terrorist bombs, a workers’ walkout and anti-capitalist demonstrations on the day of a royal visit. This much-derided comedy gleefully nicks the mantle of just about every popular British film genre from Carry On rudery to Hammer horror (the latter complete with spooky wibbly sounds straight from the school percussion cupboard).

MacDowell, admittedly, doesn’t get to do much aside from snoop about in a window cleaner’s cradle (oh, and get bodily torn limb from limb), but the choicest satirical morsels are shared out among a reliably burgeoning all-star cast: Leonard Rossiter’s harassed financial director; Joan Plowright’s confident NUPE chief; the ever-brilliant Graham Crowden’s maniacally amoral, brain-liquidising research scientist, complete with documentary film crew in permanent tow; Robin Askwith’s bolshy but easily-bought kitchen staff head (“that’s a gesture my lads and lasses would easily appreciate!”); Richard Griffiths’s anodyne DJ Cheerful Bernie (“those naughty bombers ‘ave just blown a fuse in the toaster!”); a stoned Mark Hamill laughing hysterically at film of battery hens; Brian Glover and Mike ‘Larry carries ladders round with ease’ Grady as neverending decorators and countless others including Robbie Coltrane, John  Gordon Sinclair, Dandy Nichols, Alan Bates, Marsha Hunt, Arthur Lowe and good old Liz Smith.

Fittingly, it ends with staff and visiting dignitaries witnessing the unveiling of Crowden’s latest wheeze – a super-computer poised to take over from the worn-out human race – either the logical conclusion of the snowballing satirical shenanigans or a bit of a ‘couldn’t think of an ending’ cop-out, depending on your viewpoint. Whatever you think of the shape of the thing, it’s one of the most memorable cinematic messes ever vomited onto the screen. Delicate it ain’t. Anderson’s an angry old man, and he determinedly plays every symbolic character up for all they’re worth, and often a bit extra: he’ll make you see what he did there if it’s the last thing he does. But for those with a taste for the excessively overwrought state-of-the-nation film satire will find that, as a full-stop to that most wayward of film genres, it’s pretty hard to beat.

TV CREAM SAYS: "ENGLAND!" [SHAKES HEAD IN PANTOMIME EXASPERATION]

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6 Responses to “Britannia Hospital”

  1. pessoa says:

    What a very odd film this is; something of a big-screen mash up of Agitprop theatre, Brechtian allegory and Vince Powell sitcom. Worth adding that much of the cast (including Askwith) were reunited from the earlier films in the trilogy. It pretty much killed off Anderson’s career in the UK and last thing I saw you could buy it on DVD for peanuts. I first saw this on channel 4 decades ago and its one of those films I am reluctant to recommend to someone else in case they don’t get it. This is a nice appreciation.

  2. Applemask says:

    “How like a God. How like a God. How like a God. How like a God.”

  3. I too always feel awkward when recommending it alongside If and O Lucky Man. But I’m glad it exists.

    I remember Anderson used one clip to dramatic effect at the end of his episode of ‘BRITISH CINEMA: A PERSONAL VIEW’ (1985, ITV). It was the scene when a young female protestor offers a flower to one of the riot police. There’s a tense pause as he lowers his visor and considers the offering… Then he swacks her with his baton and the fight kicks off – to the sound of ‘Rule Britannia’. Heavy-handed metaphor, sure, but still powerful.

    ‘Withnail & I’ also ends with the same speech from Hamlet.

  4. disquietude says:

    Anderson, for a Leftist and with great integrity in respect of the truth, nails the peccadiloes of both Right and Left in this messy satire. Thatcher was contemptible, but the viewer of discrimination would mark the discord of the union-bled 70s which led to her election. Now were he still alive, what an interesting Olympics opening ceremony Anderson would have conjured up.

  5. disquietude says:

    The lad from Catweazle had a brief appearance in this as well.

  6. Richard Davies says:

    Sounds interesting, one to look out for when it’s on TV or the DVD is in the sales.

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