Much loved, fiercely defended and often grumbled about, the National Health Service is woven into the fabric of life in the UK today. As such, since its formation in 1948, the NHS has been the subject of soap opera, high-stakes drama, social realist polemic and lovingly bawdy comedy. To mark the service’s 70th anniversary, HOME take a broad look at the ways in which cinema has affected, defended and poked fun at our healthcare system, with a six-film season pulled together by Senior Visiting Curator, Andy Willis of Salford University.
The NHS is perhaps sometimes taken for granted today, but the idea that good healthcare should be available to everybody, regardless of circumstance, had to be fought for. HOME’s film season begins at the beginning with a 35mm screening of Hollywood director, King Vidor’s 1938 film The Citadel (Saturday 28th July). Starring Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell, the film is based on A.J. Cronin’s novel — which was seen as something of a call to arms regarding the subject of a national health service — and tells the story of a doctor confronted with the illnesses of Welsh Valleys miners.
Once established in 1948, the NHS quickly became a critical part of the lives of the citizens it served — present for everything from everyday healthcare needs to the darkest hours. Director Pat Jackson’s 1951 film, White Corridors (Saturday 28th July), was made just four years after the establishment of the NHS and follows, with detail and empathy, the day-to-day heroism of a group of dedicated professionals in a rural Midlands hospital. Similarly, Alexander Mackendrick’s Ealing drama, Mandy (Sunday 29th July), released in 1952, charts the trials of a deaf child who is sent to a school for the deaf in Manchester, in the hopes that she might learn to communicate; whilst stressing the vital nature of NHS services.
The high drama of serious illness, disease and emergency medical care is, of course, fertile ground for cinema. But cinema isn’t all drama, and HOME present a 35mm double bill of Carry On films that demonstrate the lighter side of hospital life on Sunday 29th July. Stacked with gross out moments, medical anomalies and no small amount of taxpayer-funded sexual shenanigans, Carry on Doctor and Carry on Matron (“A film that does irreparable harm to the medical profession.” boasts the trailer.) document the comical comings and goings of the doctors, nurses and unfortunate patients who keep the NHS ticking over.
It’d be remiss to programme a season of films about the NHS without acknowledging the troubles that it has, and continues to, face. With that in mind, HOME close their ode to the NHS with a screening of Lindsay Anderson’s 1982 black comedy, Britannia Hospital (Monday 30th July.) Taken alongside if…. (1968) and O Lucky Man! (1973), the film forms a bleak, surreal trilogy that follows the adventures of charismatic troublemaker, Mick Travis (Malcolm MacDowell). In Anderson’s typically sharp, anti-establishment style, Britannia Hospital centres around protests sparked by a visit from the Queen Mother; raising increasingly relevant questions about encroaching privatisation along the way.
NHS staff attending the season will receive 20% off full price tickets and 10% off in HOME’s restaurant when coming to watch any of the films in the NHS Season. Use the code NHS20 when booking online and present your NHS ID card as proof when picking up tickets or purchasing food in the restauraunt.