Sunday, October 28, 2007
Britannia Hospital (1982)
by TONY VENTHAM COHSE Shop Steward, Willesden Ambulance Station, London Ambulance Service
Britannia hospital, the new film from Lindsay Anderson who made "If", is a satirical attack on the society of the 1980s.
It is set in a decaying hospital which is due to receive a royal visit. Outside is a picket of hospital workers, shown by the film as completely callous.
Inside the star attraction is a research centre, in which a mad professor is attempting, Frankenstein like, to build a new human being. When the royal visit finally takes place, the mob outside erupts, the Special patrol group (Riot Police) are brought in and everything seems set for a violent final scene as in "if" But the battle between the classes is suddenly ended by the intervention of the professor.
He Invites the demonstrators to sit beside royalty In his lecture theatre. In a brilliant speech he outlines the way in which capitalist society is falling apart and presents his new human being as the solution.
The film leaves you with a mixture of emotions, more quest ions than answers, wondering how much of it was serious and how much a wind up.
The film echoes the demoralisation and increasing bitterness of Thatcher's Britain. Poverty Is contrasted with the wealth of the professor's research centre, funded by a Japanese pharmaceutical company.
The media are characterised by an investigative reporting team who get stoned on magic mushrooms while watching in awe and wild laughter scenes from Vietnam and the Brixton riots. The bourgeoisie are portrayed by the hospital administrator, who becomes increasingly desperate and, in the end, is prepared to kill to protect what he holds dear. The outcome is unclear.
Does the new technology of the research centre reconcile the class antagonism? Or does It merely make the dream of a socialist future practical? Anderson was one of the Angry Young Men of the British cinema in the mid 1950s, sparking a revolution akin to that of John Osborne, George Devine and others in the theatre.
Has he now become as bitter and twisted as Osborne? Or is he, as puts it, simply 'a satirist' and a 'frustrated romantic'? The fact that the film has been hyped to the hilt by EMI and pushed on to general release with almost frantic haste begs a question. Is it a coincidence that a film showing hospital pickets as inhuman and animal-like should be promoted in the middle of the NHS pay dispute?
You must decide if it is worth seeing.
Britannia Hospital, was a viciously anti union film as Anderson has had admitted.
The Film is actually based upon events during the anti private patient campaign at Hammersmith hospital and Charring Cross and the respective NUPE and COHSE branch Secretaries (Jamie Fleming and Ester Brookstone) .
The truth was that low paid ancillary staff in these teaching hospitals had been treated as the lowest of the low by the Consultants and medical staff for years, by the late 1970's they had had enough and hitting the Consultants private patients was one way of getting back at them and securing some dignity (as well as making a point about equal access to health care).
The Hospital Consultants fought any attack on their lucrative private work with all the power they could muster, and smashed those involved in the anti private patients campaign, by lobbying at the highest government levels and regular denouncing the unions in the right wing press, There actions would ultimately lead to the contracting out (privatisation) of many ancillary services 1980s (and the filthy wards we have today)
Tony Ventham was then the acceptable face of the SWP in COHSE and generally well respected, but probably like the rest of us underestimated the anti union message of this film. Tony later became a lawyer.