AFED #19: Britannia Hospital (UK, 1982); Dir. Lindsay Anderson

Were I asked to name one figure above all others who has shaped my love of cinema then it would be Lindsay Anderson. Watching a rented video tape of his 1968 film if.... in the autumn of 1993 changed my perception of the medium forever. The surrealistic tale of a revolution at a public school, it was so jaw-droppingly audacious, so different to anything I'd experienced before, that no sooner had I watched it than I rewound the cassette and did so all over again.

 if.... was the first of three collaborations with the writer David Sherwin and actor Malcolm McDowell;  a loose trilogy of films that featuring McDowell's alter-ego Mick Travis. The three are vastly different in style and in truth Travis is the same character in name only. For the second, O Lucky Man! (1973) Mick was transformed into a modern-day equivalent of Voltaire's Candide in a picaresque journey through seventies Britain. It was Anderson's most ambitious film and almost matches if.... for quality.

Yet during the course of the seventies Anderson's reputation diminished. Although the British film industry entered a severe decline he turned down offers to go to Hollywood and largely focused on his work as a theatre director. A television play he directed from an Alan Bennett script in 1979, The Old Crowd, drew fierce criticism for its unconventional quasi-Brechtian technique. Yet the worst was yet to come.

Britannia Hospital, the final part of the trilogy, was never conceived as such. Only after McDowell, by then a rising Hollywood star, agreed to take a role was the name of his character changed to Mick Travis. It was a clumsy contrivance and - by leading to comparisons with the earlier films - probably detracted from its merits. Although inferior in quality Britannia Hospital expresses the profound dismay Anderson felt at the direction Britain was heading and is possibly his most savage and satirical indictment.

To be completed...


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