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BRITANNIA HOSPITAL(director: Lindsay Anderson; screenwriter: David Sherwin; cinematographer: Mike Fash; editor: Michael Ellis; music: Alan Price; cast: Leonard Rossiter (Vincent Potter), Graham Crowden (Professor Millar), Malcolm McDowall (Mick Travis), Robin Askwith (Ben Keating), Marcus Powell (Sir Anthony Mount), John Bett (Lady Felicity Ramsden), Joan Plowright (Phyllis Grimshaw), Brian Pettifer (Biles), Peter Jeffrey (Sir Geoffrey), Jill Bennett (MacMillan), Fulton MacKay (Chief Superintendant Johns), DaveAtkins (Sharkey), Mark Hamill (Red), Frank Grimes (Sammy/Voice of Genesis); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Davina Belling & Clive Parsons; Anchor Bay; 1982-UK)
“This attempt at Swiftian satire wasn’t too swift.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This muddled black comedy of Brit mores and manners and the class system is a mess, as it skewers the Britannia Hospital as it celebrates its 500th anniversary with the visit of the Queen Mother and the Japanese ambassador to open the new Millar Centre for Advanced Surgical Science–partly funded by Banzai Chemicals of Tokyo. It’s a crude and unfunny lampoon, written by David Sherwin, that mocks the system, the state of the nation, the Thatcher government, the unions, the political protesters, the strikers, African dictators, privileged patients, both orthodox and unorthodox doctors, the media, the Queen, the Brit public’s blind acceptance of royalty and just about everything else conceivable. The run-down-hospital gets the once over by director Lindsay Anderson (“If”and ”O Lucky Man!” were the first legs of this trilogy), who fills it with his cynicism and vulgar Carry On wit. There are only stale jokes, obnoxious characters, no overall viewpoint except for its smugness that it has something important to say, and it remains loud and incoherent and not even up to snuff to match the usual Hyde Park political soapbox orator.

The plot has the hospital’s celebration upset by a worker’s strike, telecommunication problems and loud demonstrations on the hospital grounds against the African dictator Ngami who is a privileged private patient. The harried, grimacing chief hospital administrator Vincent Potter bargains to stop the strike with the oily union heads who are willing to sell-out their members for personal gain (Joan Plowright, Dave Atkins and Robin Askwith), while ambitious investigative journalist Mick Travis sneaks into the Millar wing with the latest in TV spyware to broadcast to a van parked in front of the hospital. He stumbles upon a refrigerated room of body parts that are to be used in the Genesis demonstration to be performed by the unethical, pompous, glory-seeking researcher Professor Millar, and he pays the ultimate price for trying to get a story. Professor Millar performs ghastly experiments with the refrigerated corpses, as he makes Frankenstein-like patchwork creations that result in the new man–who has a human brain situated in a pyramid-shaped computer. Things get out of control as the mob rushes the building after learning HRH has been sneaked inside, the police smash heads and it ends with madman Professor Millar delivering a hopelessly insane speech during his demo about modern civilization being insane and beyond saving.

Though intense and wound up to give everyone the business, this attempt at Swiftian satire wasn’t too swift and couldn’t manage to clean up its filthy act with anything conclusive but for a few scatological sight gag moments and the embarrassingly crass humor of targeting a dwarf and a cross-dresser to be its chief objects of derision.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”