A love letter to the NHS, marred by a late twist
dmg media (UK)
Set in a small city hospital threatened with closure and amid talk of a doctors’ strike, Allelujah couldn’t be more timely. Demand for beds at the Bethlehem, a Northern cottage hospital specialising in geriatric care, is relentless, but the powers-that-be in faraway London have deemed it too small. Never mind levelling-up, The Beth’ must close. Cue the inevitable campaign to save it. Loyal volunteers are fundraising, a documentary unit has been invited in, and it might just help the beleaguered chairman that the management consultant behind the proposed closure – ironically a local lad ‘made good’ – is up for a few days visiting his ailing dad. Given that the film has been adapted from an Alan Bennett play by Heidi Thomas, the genius behind Call The Midwife, you’d expect both humour and warm sentiment and, while both are undoubtedly present, there’s not quite enough of either in a film that never really settles into a consistent stride. That said, director Richard Eyre does give us some lovely performances to admire. Russell Tovey is quietly splendid as the prodigal management consultant, and Jennifer Saunders plays rather brilliantly against type as the no-nonsense ward sister. Bally Gill impresses, too, as Dr Valentine, despite playing a character who’s slightly too good to be true – ‘I have always loved the old,’ begins his introductory voiceover – and seems to have stumbled out of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. With Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench offering classy cameos, think of it as a love letter to the NHS and try to ignore the damage done by a melodramatic late twist. While many Brits will be aware of the Boston Strangler, few will know the story. And that’s one of the reasons why Boston Strangler on Disney+ is worth watching. Another is that it’s one of those classy newspaper investigation dramas that Americans do so well. Set in the early 1960s, it sees Keira Knightley playing Loretta McLaughlin, an ambitious reporter on the Record American who fights the sexism of the period on a daily basis and is already struggling to balance motherhood with a career. But when she becomes the first reporter to link a series of random murders… well, it might just be her big break. It’s a great but grim story – the twists and turns of which I don’t intend to spoil – and while Knightley is good, Carrie Coon is terrific as her partner in crime-reporting, Jean Cole. The unexpected treat of the week has to be Rye Lane, a romantic comedy set mainly within the black community of Peckham in South London. Debut feature director Raine Allen-Miller has it fizzing with energy, humour and creative ideas, while drawing lovely performances from David Jonsson (from TV’s Industry) and Vivian Oparah as the pair who meet and possibly fall in love over the course of a single Peckham day. South London has rarely looked lovelier, there are encouraging echoes of Before Sunrise and Trainspotting and, in a film that good-humouredly thumbs its nose at the likes of Notting Hill and Love Actually, do look out for a game Colin Firth. Four years ago I was a big fan of the first Shazam! film, which seemed to blend adolescence, humour and comicbook superhero fun in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Unfortunately, its sequel, Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, is nothing like as good, hampered by a lack of laughs, some dodgy visual effects and by the fact that having a Philadelphia teenager turn into a manly superhero when he shouts ‘Shazam’ is nothing like as funny when said teenager, Billy Batson, is very nearly 18 rather than 14. Despite featuring Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu as the daughters of Atlas and a lot of cod-Greek mythology, this just fails to fly. Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief was a lot more fun. After their cult horror success with X last year, Mia Goth and director Ti West join forces once again to bring us Pearl, which is set on the same farm but where the nastiness unfolds some 60 years earlier, in 1918. Goth, who also played Pearl in X, is fabulous as the fragile, movie-obsessed young woman whose husband has marched off to war, leaving her to be exploited by her cruel German mother. Pearl has every right to be angry, but what if she just happens to be mad, too..?