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Britannia Hospital

Britannia Hospital wasn't the last movie Lindsay Anderson made but it sure feels like it. Released in 1982, it was in fact Anderson's seventh full length film out of a total 30 shorts and features. Nevertheless, there is something of a summing up to it, perhaps because Anderson serves up the third and final film in what had become the Mick Travis trilogy, beginning with if… in 1968 and continuing with O Lucky Man! in 1973. All three movies star Malcolm McDowell and were written by David Sherwin. As of this writing, Anderson's marvelous and confusing if… still awaits DVD publication by Paramount, which owns the rights, while Warner Bros. controls O Lucky Man!, making Anchor Bay the winner of the Anderson-Travis sweepstakes. More anarchical than Paddy Chayevsky's Hospital and with something of the darkness of Lars von Trier's later The Kingdom, Britannia Hospital, which uses a day in the life of a hospital to critique contemporary Britain, continues in the spirit of the two earlier Mick Travis films, inserting unannounced fantasias into semi-realistic settings. The cleric who rises from the cupboard in if... and O Lucky Man!'s hanging judge who immediately sees a dominatrix in his chambers is matched here by the emergency ward patient allowed to die by nurses on break, and the insane doctor, carried over from O Lucky Man!, who experiments with body parts. The story concerns Mick's new job as an investigative TV journalist infiltrating Britannia Hospital on the day the Queen is visiting. Parallel stories tell of striking hospital employees and protestors. The style of the film is for the most part stylized or exaggerated satire, and this kind of satire — while often acceptable in Monty Python — seemed to strike viewers and critics at the time as excessive and off-key. But they shouldn't have been surprised, as the director's films had been consistently satirical and strange. Anderson approached his films cerebrally, and in the end they are not as polished as those of other filmmakers — performances were his strong suit. In his book Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert notes that Britannia Hospital is "an intellectually uncompromising movie that Derek Jarman prophesied 'would finish Lindsay in the British film industry.' Lindsay…never made another feature film in his native country…and was unprepared for the hostile reaction to his idea of a besieged and incompetent hospital as a metaphor for Britain." Anchor Bay's disc features a clean, flawless anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Added value is at a minimum, but effective. Besides the trailer and a teaser, there is a touching 11-minute interview with Malcolm McDowell, who expresses deep gratitude to Anderson. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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