Film Review: Allelujah is too insulting and manipulative to ever earn the titular praise it hopes to elicit

Judging a film by its poster art is never the safest thing to do (what’s that old judging book cover quote?), but in the case of Allelujah it’s a safe assumption that anyone who even remotely glanced at the colourful, rainbow-adorned title and collective cast ensemble on display would have an idea of the film’s suggested tone.

And whilst Richard Eyre‘s dramedy (though it’s far more emphasising the drama of its mashed genres) may not be as uplifting as audiences may expect – which there’s nothing wrong with – I can almost guarantee that its eventual decline into propaganda and fourth-wall breaking will entirely throw audiences for a loop in a manner that’s not remotely appreciated.

Before we get to such a jarring reveal, this almost-love letter to the NHS centres around Bethlehem Hospital in South Yorkshire, England – or “The Beth” for short – a hospital with a wealth of history, but very little support from the government.  A collective of suits have decided that the British health system needs an overhaul on efficiency, and, unfortunately, The Beth doesn’t have the excellence needed to survive such a culling.

Fundraising efforts are made and a TV crew is brought in to document the attempt, but there’s the general sense it will all be for nought.  Still, the show must go on, and guiding the production is stern head nurse Sister Alma Gilpin (Jennifer Saunders, committing more to her character’s vocal tone than the performance itself).  She’s apparently good enough at her job that she’s being honoured for her long-service to The Beth, but she’s in no mood to celebrate, and when a patient dies under mysterious circumstances the aura surrounding the proceedings shifts; though the patient-in-question’s daughter and son-in-law seem more riled by the fact that their mother’s death screws them out of inheritance by a few mere months.

The spotlight within The Beth is now placed on something far more serious, and, rather coincidentally, another of the patients – geriatric Joe (David Bradley) – happens to be the father of a consultant (Russell Tovey) to the government’s health secretary.  Wouldn’t it be something if that patient’s death wasn’t just a one-off and there’s something of a sinister presence lurking within the walls of the very establishment designed to save lives as much as possible?

Without delving entirely into the rug-pulling pivot that Heidi Thomas and Alan Bennett‘s script adheres to, Allelujah starts on a low energy note, though entirely harmless, and gradually adopts a more cold temperament as it investigates the assisted deaths of patients in a manner that’s akin to homicide.  It actually makes for quite an interesting narrative, but it’s never what Allelujah presents itself initially.  And even though a twist in your proceedings can be welcome to offset any predictability, the harsh personality here doesn’t feel remotely organic to anything that came before.

Despite the presence of such reliable talents as Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench – the latter entirely underutilised – Allelujah is not worth the praise its title hopes to elicit.  It’s ultimately quite an aggressive drama that could have been a sly commentary on the health care system, but instead it aims to almost shame the audience for any ill-feelings harboured towards health departments; the film’s final moment is delivered directly to camera by Bally Gill‘s mostly-pleasant Dr. Valentine in what is perhaps the wildest narrative reveal since Haley Joel Osment saw dead people.  It’s topical to the point of an insult, and even if we were enjoying the subdued nature of Allelujah, this final address makes sure to neuter any remaining goodwill.


Allelujah is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.