Based on the 2018 Alan Bennett play of the same name, Allelujah tells the story of Bethlehem (or “Beth” as the locals call it), a geriatric ward in a small Yorkshire hospital that’s at risk of shutting down due to government budget cuts. Conservative management consultant Colin (Russell Tovey) is visiting the Beth to inspect it ahead of its impending closure, and it’s up to the staff, including the idealistic Dr Valentine (Bally Gill) and head nurse Sister Gilpin (Jennifer Saunders), to win him over and save the hospital.
Allelujah is very interestingly structured. For the most part, it’s a heartwarming piece about the indomitable human spirit and the beauty of old age, criticising the prioritisation of profit over people and celebrating the efforts of the NHS in the face of a government that works against their best interests and the interests of those in its care. Stuffed to the brim with national treasures and tugging on the heartstrings with generous heaps of pathos and melodrama, much of the runtime is spent playing things sweetly and safely, but doing so well. However, in the closing parts of the final act, a sudden jarring plot twist completely obliterates the established tone. It’s not completely out of left field and is telegraphed subtly but consistently throughout the piece, but it re-contextualises the entire film in a way that will either make or break it for audiences.
This is very much by design, and an additional postscript added for this cinematic adaptation does its best to massage the ending into the cultural zeitgeist surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, but it does leave the experience as a whole feeling somewhat disjointed. While the juxtaposition of the twist and the saccharine goings-on in the rest of the film is shocking, it also makes the lead-up to the concluding thesis feel toothless and non-committal in comparison, imbuing it with something of an identity crisis that compromises the effectiveness of its noble message.
Overall, Allelujah is an intriguing production. It has a lot of things it wants to say, but its commitment to a shock-value plot twist blunts its ability to say those things and causes it to largely squander its runtime, making for an experience that feels inconsistent and compromised, despite its best efforts.
Allelujah is released nationwide on 17th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Allelujah here: