Be warned! Allelujah is not the feel-good British movie we are being led to believe by its advertising campaign. The brightly coloured poster with multi-coloured lettering and smiling faces of the cast is not what you get when you enter the cinema. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. This is a depressing, poorly executed movie in which we are told that getting old isn’t fun and you will suffer from incontinence, your children will treat you terribly, and in the most jaw-dropping finale act ever, you will fear going into a hospital in your life!
The geriatric ward of a small hospital is on the verge of closing. Sister Gilpin and her staff are trying their best to meet targets set by the government and other hospitals crying out for bed. A local TV crew have arrived to do a piece on the closure for an award Sister Gilpin is receiving. Colin Colman, a government representative, advised them to close the place, finds himself between a rock and a hard place after his estranged father, Joe, is admitted. Then something strange begins to happen to the patients.
This film is littered with talent. Based on a play by Alan Bennett. Written for the screen by Heidi Thomas, the showrunner for the hugely successful Call The Midwife, and directed by Richard Eyre, one of this country’s great theatre directors and the man who gave us Notes On A Scandal and The Children Act. So you would have thought the film could hardly go wrong with these names behind the camera? Wrong. It’s a mess, with subplots and caricatures, lacking in any real depth in the characters and lacking any connection with anyone, you find yourself wondering why this film exists.
We are led to believe this is a celebration of the NHS and everything it stands for. This is true in parts, and the current government comes under scrutiny throughout the story. None more so than the passionate speech at the end of the film, which, while important, seems somewhat out of place considering where the film goes. Yet this film seems to hate everyone, even the patients in this small hospital. We get children of the patients who try to show they care but can’t wait to get rid of their ailing parent to claim their inheritance, and get angry when it’s not when they expect it, or more like when they need it to happen.
The subplot of the father and son is really the only part of the film that works, as the government worker who escaped to London after the homophobic attitude of his father forced him to leave has advised the health minister to close this place down but finds himself shifting his ideas when he tries to make amends with his father and sees the place for himself. These often awkward moments between the two men add something that could have been explored more deeply.
Instead, we get a mix of stereotyped patients that you would believe come from Alan Bennett’s world. They have a few laughs in this film but are soon squeezed out but this obsession with incontinence. Then we get a final act that is so left field, it literally feels like someone walked with a heavy frying pan and slammed it into my face. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, In fact, it would be hard to fit in any film. Tonally it throws the whole thing entirely off balance.
What is also so devasting about this film is the cast. Jennifer Saunders is good as Sister Gilpin. Bally Gill brings likeable sensitivity as Dr Valentine, the man overseeing these patients, openly admits he loves old people. Derek Jacobi is in good form as an ageing former English teacher, while Judi Dench, solely wasted in a minor role, still brings class to the proceedings. David Bradley and Russell Tovey steal the film; however, as the father and son, I would have happily sat through a movie just about these two characters.
Allelujah should have been a bright and breezy film about life in a hospital and adding weight behind the doctors and nurses who work so hard for the NHS. Instead, it’s a bleak and uninvolving tale that goes from dark to darker still by the final act. If it’s an entertaining night out you are looking for, look elsewhere because you will feel hatred about getting old. A poor and disappointing film.
1 out of 5
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Bally Gill, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, David Bradley, Russell Tovey.
Written by: Heidi Thomas and (based on the play) Alan Bennett
Running Time: 99 mins
Release date: 17th March 2023