Great Britain has come down with a nasty case of decline. "Britannia Hospital," director Lindsay Anderson's sick satire, examines the ailing empire. Diagnosis: All the social diseases, from unionism to journalism. Prognosis: incurable.
Though "Hospital" has its share of cut- ups like the demented Dr. Millar (Graham Crowden), the film's not terrribly funny, what with three decapitations and a hatchet job.
"Britannia Hospital" is a bloody metaphor from an angry script. It was written by David Sherwin, who also collaborated with Anderson and star Malcolm McDowell on both "If..." and "Oh Lucky Man!" It slashes out at Britain's unions, its social welfare system, the BBC, doctors and the riot squad.
Yet Sherwin and company seem dodderingly tolerant of the royal family. The Queen Mother (Gladys Crosbie) is scheduled to visit Britannia Hospital on its 500th anniversary. HRH will tour the old plant and christen the new transplant center, headed by the mad Millar, a modern Frankenstein looking for a head for his black-and- white crazy-quilt man. He seizes upon McDowell's, when he finds the TV investigative journalist hiding in a body bank full of spare parts.
Meanwhile, the people are demonstrating against "private patients" in this publicly funded hospital. One is a black African dictator said to eat babies; another is a prominent M.P. Eventually the patients are thrown to the mob as a diversion so that HRH can be slipped in via ambulance with some of the victims of a terrorist bombing. It's a mess -- as if "Alice in Wonderland" had been done by Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Worlds collide, old and new: The bobbies hold the crowd outside the embattled hospital, while outside the new glass wing the troops are high-tech storm troopers. A demonstrator offers a flower, a trooper clubs her down. The troops try to hold the mob from HRH as she makes her inspection tour, moving with slow purple pomp to "God Save the Queen."
Nobody can stop the new from overtaking the old. Well, we know that. And it doesn't always go smoothly. And we know that. But Anderson and friends seem to have abandoned all hope, tagged the toe and started the autopsy.