David at the Movies: a comedy about death and dementia?



Alan Bennett’s 2018 stage play has been adapted for the screen by Heidi Thomas, whom we mostly know as the writer/creator of Call the Midwife on TV. There are still plenty of lines which are clearly Mr Bennett’s acerbic originals and the play has not been sentimentalized. Far from. This is a bleak drama, intermittently comic, set in the geriatric ward of an old hospital in Yorkshire which is scheduled for demolition. Rightly so. The hospital looks and feels like the one where I had my appendix removed in the 1950s.

Jennifer Saunders is the ward sister, efficiently and briskly coping with everything from assisted showers to incontinence and patient deaths. Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi are among the patients, but the focus is mostly on Joe (David Bradley), a frail old gent hoping to be sent home, and his nerdy son Colin (Russell Tovey, the go-to actor for gay roles), who is on the team planning the new hospital.

The Bennett pedigree guarantees brilliant writing and all the cast do eminent justice to the script, but the tone of the movie is unremittingly glum, largely focused on death and dementia, and the dimly lit hospital adds more gloom. The ending is a bit rushed and not entirely in tune with what’s gone before.

Like The Banshees of Inisherin, this is a dark comedy that is perhaps a bit too dark. Alan Bennett has not lost his touch, but the humour in Allelujah is over-laced with bile and bitterness. Living, the Bill Nighy movie a couple of months ago, managed to find more lightness in a dark theme.

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