Britannia Hospital is a 1982 black comedy film by British director Lindsay Anderson which targets the National Health Service and contemporary British society. It was entered into the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and Fantasporto.
Britannia Hospital is the final part of Anderson's trilogy of films, written by David Sherwin, that follow the adventures of Mick Travis (portrayed by Malcolm McDowell) as he travels through a strange and sometimes surreal Britain. From his days at boarding school in if.... (1968) to his journey from coffee salesman to film star in O Lucky Man! (1973), Travis' adventures finally come to an end in Britannia Hospital which sees Mick as a muckraking reporter investigating the bizarre activities of Professor Millar, played by Graham Crowden, whom he had had a run in with in O Lucky Man. All three films have characters in common. Some of the characters from if.... that didn't turn up in O Lucky Man returned for Britannia Hospital.
The absurdities of human behaviour as we move into the Twenty-first Century are too extreme — and too dangerous — to permit us the luxury of sentimentalism or tears. But by looking at humanity objectively and without indulgence, we may hope to save it. Laughter can help.
A new wing at Britannia Hospital is to be opened, and the Queen Mother – referred to as HRH – is due to arrive. The administrator of the hospital, Potter (Leonard Rossiter), is confronted with demonstrators protesting against an African dictator who is a VIP patient, striking ancillary workers (opposed to the exotic gastronomic demands of the hospital's private patients) and a less-than-cooperative Professor Millar (Graham Crowden), the head of the new wing. Rather than cancel the royal visit, Potter decides to go out and reason with the protestors. He strikes a deal with the protest leader — the private patients of Britannia Hospital are to be ejected and, in return, the protestors allow a number of ambulances into the hospital. However, unbeknown to the protestors, these ambulances actually contain the Queen Mother and her entourage.
Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is a reporter who is shooting a clandestine documentary about the hospital and its dubious practices. He manages to get inside and starts to investigate Millar's sinister scientific experimentation, including the murder of a patient, Macready (Alan Bates). As mayhem ensues outside, Travis is also murdered and his head used as part of a grim Frankenstein-like experiment which goes hideously wrong.
Eventually, the protestors break into the hospital and attempt to disrupt Millar's presentation of his Genesis Project, in which he claims he has perfected mankind. In front of the assembled audience of Royalty and commoners, Genesis is revealed — a brain wired to machinery. Genesis is given a chance to speak and, in a robotic voice, utters the "What a piece of work is a man" speech from Hamlet, until it continuously repeats the line "How like a God".
Robbie Coltrane and Patsy Byrne had small bit parts. This was the final film appearance of Arthur Lowe who died shortly after his scenes were filmed.
Britannia Hospital took a number of years to set up. It was originally called "Memorial Hospital" and, according to David Sherwin's diaries Going Mad in Hollywood, was going to be financed by 20th Century Fox under Sherry Lansing. The Fox deal fell through, but the project was then saved by producer Clive Parsons who managed to set up financing through EMI under Barry Spikings. It was filmed at Shepperton Studios, using Friern Hospital in Barnet as the exterior of the hospital.
Britannia Hospital was a box-office failure, and EMI withdrew the film a month after release. Most British critics lambasted the film on release, although Dilys Powell reviewed it positively, David Robinson listed it among his top ten for the year, and Geoff Daniel chose it as his film of the year. Critic Ian Haydn Smith considers Britannia Hospital the "nadir" of Anderson's career. "Replacing satire with broad comedy, the film fails on every level in its attempt to critique the state of the National Health Service". The film won the "Audience Jury Award" at Fantasporto.
It has since been widely available on both VHS and DVD.