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#TIFF22 Review: Allelujah (Special Presentations)

September 13, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to 18th.

Directed by Richard Eyre, and based on a 2018 stage play by Alan Bennett that has been adapted for the screen by Heidi Thomas, the British film Allelujah follows various staff and patients at the Bethlehem Hospital in Yorkshire. Known more generally as the Beth, the film specifically takes place in the publicly funded hospital’s geriatric ward, which is being threatened by government cuts.

At the centre of the story is Dr. Valentine (Bally Gill), an idealistic young healthcare practitioner from India who tells us in voiceover that he has “always loved the old” (“no one likes old people, not even other old people,” one of the elderly residents retorts at another point). Dr. Valentine works under the tutelage of Nurse Gilpin (Jennifer Saunders), who has a pragmatic, orderly approach to running the ward where many patients are receiving end-of-life care, and she prides herself on keeping it free of smelling like urine.

There is a camera crew on site that is in the process of filming for a TV special that they hope will convince the government to keep their funding intact. Among the residents is Joe (David Bradley), a former coal miner whose son Colin (Russell Tovey) works for a management company that is finding efficiencies for the government, but starts to have his own perceptions challenged by visiting his father and seeing the care that he is receiving at the Beth.

It’s worth noting that Allelujah is a well acted film that does feature some enjoyable and bittersweet moments, but it is also somewhat of a mixed bag. The film never quite decides what it wants to be; a feel-good dramedy, a heartfelt plea for more NHS funding, or something much darker about how seniors are cared for. The film takes a very dramatic turn in its last act that raises complicated moral questions, but also presents a jarring tonal shift, before a final scene that feels tacked on.

There are a few touching moments in the film, and the acting is good, including a small but pivotal supporting role for Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal star Judi Dench as one of the more quiet and observant residents. But the different narrative pieces of Allelujah ultimately don’t all gel together as a whole, making this a pretty good but ultimately uneven affair.

Public Screenings:

Saturday, September 10th – 1:30 PM at Royal Alexandra Theatre

Sunday, September 11th – 11:30 AM at Scotiabank 3

Thursday, September 15th – 6:15 PM at Scotiabank 10

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