by Anthony King
I wish movies depicting class struggle would turn into time portals – history books, if you will – but unfortunately these stories will forever be relevant. From Sergei Einstein's Strike (1925) and The Marx Brothers in Leo McCarey's Duck Soup (1933) to Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite (2019) and Downton Abbey, stories of class struggle and the plight of the 99% will forever speak to our hearts. As the third story in writer David Sherwin's and director Lindsay Anderson's Mick Travis trilogy, Britannia Hospital takes what may seem like the most benign and unrelatable story of [specifically] British class struggle centered around a hospital. Yet it brings us into its world with absurd humor and chaotic energy and doesn't release us from its grip. Ever. Even when the title card appears out of nowhere after two hours and the movie just stops, we have been enveloped and are now trapped like Lisa Blount and the mirror at the end of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness.
At first glance, Britannia Hospital seems like a hard sell. “A movie from 1982 about the class struggle of British citizens centered around a hospital,” was my flop of an elevator pitch to my friend. “Mmm,” he replied, “Sounds... riveting,” the sarcasm oozing out of the earpiece of my phone as I was talking with him. The poster and its tagline help. “The M*A*S*H of Socialized Medicine,” in big block letters above a group caricature of the massive cast full of “that guy” British actors. And Mark Hamill. Essentially Britannia Hospital is about an old, established institution with a new, experimental wing that is currently hosting a murderous African dictator in one of the patient suites. Most of the staff has gone on strike due to the fact that the richer patients are given better care and more rights than those less wealthy. On top of this turmoil, the Queen (HRH) is coming to tour the new wing. Mick Travis and his small crew are there as investigative reporters with the goal to expose the social disparities and atrocities taking place at this famed institution.