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Small is strong

Allelujah, the film, came to Altrincham this week. We went along. We had learned about it via the Guardian article by Catherine Shoard February 10th so knew it to be an adaption of the play written by Alan Bennett 2018.

We went as a family of three- and found ourselves within our extended family of familiar people from TV: Judi Dench – greatly celebrated by Catherine Shoard – but also Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie), David Bradley, Russell Tovey, Derek Jacobi and Jennifer Saunders. This brought it very close. We did not know the younger players – but Bally Gill spoke exactly as so many lovely Indian doctors we have known, and Jesse Akele is the perfect caring, unassumingly carefree, hands-on nurse.

Both Alan Bennett and Richard Eyres (the film’s director) have supported their mothers through years of frailty to death in care. They have known the strengths and weaknesses of the NHS and care system, and seen the undermining of principles in the name of efficiency and modern ways.

We were drawn to have affection for The Beth, the traditional small hospital in Yorkshire which offered care and treatment to old people in their times of crisis. Rough and ready in many ways, basic in its furnishings and equipment, modest in its ambition, though ludicrous in the pomposity of the Chairman of the Board – it had been earmarked for closure.

For me the most powerful story was that of Joe (David Bradley) and his son Colin (Russell Tovey). Joe, an ex-miner, had come to The Beth from a care home – ‘A shit-hole’ – and felt OK at The Beth. Colin had gone to London to seek his fortune and had become a senior advisor to a minister in the Department of Health. It was the advice of Colin and his minister which would see the closure of The Beth.

‘Small is loved, but small is expensive, inefficient and cannot give you the best of modern medicine. Care can be given in a social settings.’

Joe and Colin do not see eye to eye. For Joe, Colin’s life style is an embarrassment as much as a source of pride. For Colin, he searches to find a way of showing his affection and respect for this grizzled old wreck. They both miss ‘Mum’.

But in his visits, Colin finds his eyes opened – to dad and to the ways of The Beth. They have their good points. He takes this back to his minister and their committee – They are incredulous of Colin’s conversion.

This is huge – It lays bare what has been done to our welfare state, against the wishes and the best judgement of ordinary (small) people.

Ricardo Semler, in ‘Maverick’ ridicules the blind folly and arrogance of management theory which worships big and modern. ‘We could count everything, but knew nothing.’

This is Alan Bennett speaking up for us. Speaking truth. I hope we will be heard.

Another plot woven here, leads us to see Sister Gilpin as a nurse Dr Shipman, rather than the Florence Nightingale she would style herself. Perhaps she is driven to that in despair at the changes being imposed. That heaps coals on the anger.

I hope we can be heard.

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