Star Rating:


Director: Richard Eyre

Actors: Jennifer Saunders, David Bradley, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench

Release Date: Friday 17th March 2023

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 96 minutes

As the Bethlehem Hospital in North England faces closure, a TV crew is dispatched to film the life and work of the nurses (Jennifer Saunders), doctors (Bally Gill), patients (Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, David Bradley) and their loved ones (Russell Tovey)...

As much as Ireland's health service has been under constant pressure and funding and lack of hospital beds have almost crippled it, the NHS across the water has been under consistent bombardment from Tory governments determined to destroy it at any cost. The sheer level of inhumanity in how successive Prime Ministers and Health Secretaries have hobbled and underfunded the NHS cannot be easily expressed or quantified, and a starry drama written by Alan Bennett isn't going to do it justice either. The anger and the outrage of it all would probably choke out any kind of artistic expression, so instead 'Allelujah' opts for a quiet and stately affair - right up until the last ten minutes, when it takes a sharp turn into something utterly baffling and bizarre.

Up until that point, however, 'Allelujah' is played like a gentle, bittersweet drama. It is buffeted through a few stories and characters, but most of the attention rounds up on an estranged father-son relationship, played by David Bradley and Russell Tovey. It's not subtle in the slightest - Bradley's character is a former miner, while Tovey's character is a management consultant for the Health Secretary and a Tory. Naturally, they've drifted apart over the years and as Tovey's character points out that pushing someone one way ultimately leads them to drift another way. If this is supposed to be a microcosm of the collapse of the Red Wall in UK politics, it doesn't delve any deeper than a lament. It's not a real examination of it, simply a passing observation.

For all of its starry cast, Judi Dench has a small role, as does Derek Jacobi. Jennifer Saunders and Bally Gill make up much of the screentime, with Saunders' dry tones and clipped delivery in sharp relief to Gill's earnest and wide-eyed optimism. Indeed, the final scene of 'Allelujah' is Gill's character stripping down his PPE on a COVID ward while delivering a passionate monologue to save the NHS, arguing that "profit will not profit" and reminding the audience that caregivers, nurses, and doctors are the ones who love unconditionally and serve all no matter what. Yet, not ten minutes prior, 'Allelujah' makes a sharp right turn into something truly dark and disturbing.

It's so shocking, so completely out of nowhere that it just collapses everything you've been led to believe about the people and the characters around you. What's more, you spend the entire movie to this point believing one thing and realising another. It ends so suddenly that we're not given a chance to understand it, or even process it.