The iconoclastic British filmmaker Lindsay Anderson believes in the prophetic and purgative value of satire. His new film carries on in the impudent spirit of If (in which students protest the hypocrisies of their school by mowing down faculty and trustees with machine guns) and O Lucky Man! (a social satire on the waywardness of modern life). "The artist must always aim beyond the limits of tolerance," Anderson wrote. "His duty is to be a monster."
While terrorist bombings in London are sending many victims to its doors, Britannia Hospital is preparing for a visit by her Royal Highness. The institution's 500th anniversary is being heralded with the dedication of the new Millar Centre for Advanced Surgical Procedure.
The hospital administrator has his hands full. Demonstrators at the gates are protesting the privileges given private patients (their place card states "No Privilege in Pain"); they also object to the V.I.P. coddling of an African dictator and his entourage. The porters refuse to do their jobs until they receive a proper English breakfast, and the kitchen staff are revolting against the management.
Meanwhile, Dr. Millar proceeds on his quest for scientific fame with a transplant operation which is being secretly monitored by Mike Travis, a TV investigative reporter. Once the visiting royalty are safely in the halls of Britannia Hospital, the demonstrators outside riot and come pouring inside for a final encounter with Dr. Millar's strange "new Adam."
Lindsay Anderson's talented troupe of performers Malcolm McDowell, Joan Plowright, Graham Crowden, Leonard Rossiter, Jill Bennett, Marsha Hunt and others - make the most of the black comic vibrancies in David Sherwin's screenplay. Britannia Hospital skewers the combined vanities of the privileged class, scientists, media mavens and professional agitators. Here reality is retracted as grotesque fantasy. The film rages as the state of modern humanity deadened by both outmoded traditions and pretentious efforts to control the future.
Anderson's work will not appeal to the mass audience, but those who appreciate Swiftian satire are sure to tap into the wild energy of this portrait of a world gone ludicrously amuck.