Review: Britannia Hospital
Blu-ray: Britannia Hospital (1982)
Britannia Hospital is the final part of Lindsay Andersons’ trilogy about how weird and shit Britain was/is. It features Anderson’s ‘everyman’ character Mick Travis, and to really get a grip on Britannia Hospital it helps to know about Mick and the films that came before.
Mick is played by Malcolm McDowell and features in the three collaborative films directed by Anderson and written by David Sherwin. Mick is designed purposely to fit into each story yet be the defining arc, the aforementioned ‘everyman’ whose role changes according to the needs of the storyteller.
In if…. (1968), which was Malcolm McDowell’s film debut, Mick Travis first appears as a disaffected public school boy whose anti-establishment attitude and experiences lead to armed insurrection at a private school. The film was made at Lindsay Anderson’s old school, and is somewhat biographical. In O Lucky Man! (1973), Travis becomes a picaresque character, in a satire that starts with Travis’ first job as a mobile coffee salesman and, after many adventures involving arms-sale scandals, experiments in human-animal genetics by the mad scientist Doctor Millar (played by Graham Crowden, who returns in Britannia Hospital), and a sojourn with the musician Alan Price, ends up with him becoming a film star, thanks to a slap by a film director played in a cameo by Anderson.
Britannia Hospital is a film of its time. It’s also a bit bonkers. Encompassing Unions (everyone is always on strike), the class system, racism (the language used in this is enough to get it banned) and what it means to be a human, all in a sort of “is it the future?” atmosphere. No it seems more like 1974 even though it was made in 1982.
The story itself follows different sets of characters that all converge at the end. A new wing at Britannia Hospital is to be opened, by HRH ( the Queen Mother) and the administrator of the hospital, Potter (the most wonderful Leonard Rossiter), is confronted with demonstrators protesting against an African dictator who is a VIP patient, striking workers, and missing star surgeon Professor Millar (Graham Crowden) who is the head of the new wing.
Rather than cancel the royal visit, Potter decides go ahead with the visit, grappling with protesters, striking staff, and various other problems. Meanwhile Mick Travis is a reporter who is shooting a clandestine documentary about the hospital and its dubious practices. He manages to get inside and starts to investigate Millar’s sinister scientific experimentation, including the murder of a patient, Macready (Alan Bates, who we see briefly playing dead lying on a gurney).
As mayhem ensues outside, Travis is also murdered and his head used as part of a grim Frankenstein-like experiment which goes wrong (but you do get to see some cock).
Eventually, the protestors break into the hospital and attempt to disrupt Millar’s presentation of his “Genesis Project”, in which he claims he has perfected mankind. In front of the assembled audience of Royalty and commoners, Genesis is revealed a brain wired to machinery. Genesis is given a chance to speak and, in a robotic voice, utters the ‘What a piece of work is a man’ speech from Hamlet.
This is a strange film, the ending is terrible and sort of meanders off, and it doesn’t know if it’s a comedy or science fiction or social commentary – it’s all three. But despite all its faults the story IS coherent and I enjoyed watching it. But my main reason for this was the cast. It features all the greats from my youth, from Dandy Nichols, Betty Marsdan, Joan Plowright, Robin Askwith, Brian Glover, and Fulton Mackay, and that’s just a few, why I even spotted Vyvyan from The Young Ones Mum as one of protesters.
So in short, I think this does work best as part of that trilogy, and who doesn’t love the anarchy of ‘…….if’? What do you MEAN you’ve never heard of it?? Go out and see it right NOW!
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
- High Definition remaster
- Original mono audio
- The BEHP Interview with Lindsay Anderson (1991, 117 mins): archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated director in conversation with Alan Lawson and Norman Swallow
- Healthy Reputation (2020, 21 mins): actor Robin Askwith fondly reflects on his films and friendship with Anderson
- Biles Apart (2020, 9 mins): actor Brian Pettifer recalls his close working relationship with Anderson
- A Cut Above (2020, 11 mins): editor Michael Ellis discusses the film’s production
- Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original teaser trailer
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Peter Cowie, an archival interview with Lindsay Anderson, extracts from the diaries of Anderson and screenwriter David Sherwin recounting the production, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
- World premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies
Britannia Hospital is released on 29th June 2020.
Review by Tina from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.
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