A government-owned hospital in Britain tries to carry on despite ultrapowerful unions, class war, socialist revolutionaries, and medical egomania. [ Britannia Hospital credits: Dir: Lindsay Anderson/ Leonard Rossiter, Graham Crowden, Malcolm McDowell/ 112 min/ Comedy/ Britain/ Unions & Monopolies, Government Health Care, Equality & Envy]
“I love this hospital! It’s my whole life. It’s been wife, mother, child to me. I’ve given it everything, and nothing’s going to wreck it. Nothing!” So says the beleaguered but determined hospital administrator, as he struggles to keep things going despite a host of problems and crises.
In particular: Britannia Hospital’s fully unionized staff is highly political and uncooperative, striking at a moment’s notice; one of the hospital’s surgeons is a megalomaniac, entirely indifferent to ordinary human life and secretly assembling his own “Frankenstein” from patients’ body parts; there is an angry mob of socialist revolutionaries literally at the gates demanding an end to the hospital’s practice of accepting “private patients” (patients who pay extra for superior conditions); and royalty is arriving amidst all this to participate in the five hundredth anniversary of the hospital’s founding! It all comes to a head with hilarious results.
A metaphor for what ailed pre-Thatcher Britain, this film lampoons that 1970s high watermark of British socialism, a time characterized by rampant strikes, failing basic services, and a general sense that nothing was working. It focuses in particular on the counterproductive effects of excessively strong unions, which management must constantly coax and bribe to get anything done, and also mocks the way in which politicization of decisions divides people. The ending of the film seems to be an appeal to rise above that kind of thing, in the name of the human potential for greatness.
Britannia Hospital is a wonderfully well-written and tightly crafted comedy. Not a moment is wasted. The entire film is literally jammed with memorable characters played with great finesse. One minor caveat: there are a few short but somewhat gory hospital scenes, so it might not be suitable for very young or squeamish audiences.
“Britannia Hospital is Mr. Anderson’s best film to date.”
–New York Times