Color, 1973, 97 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Jack Gold
Starring Lynn Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Eleanor Bron, Donald Sinden, Jim Dale, Bob Hoskins, Mervyn Johns
Indicator (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Sony (DVD-R) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.75:1) (16:9)

Following The National Healththe stage The National Healthsuccess of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and the belated release of its film adaptation in 1972, writer Peter Nichols returned to the screen a year later with a more overt comedy tackling British social issues. As the title implies The National Health (also based on a stage play) tackles the state of the nation's health care system and its many shortcomings, a topic that still rages on now perhaps more than ever in many countries. Though this wasn't the first satire about modern health care, with Paddy Chayefsky's The Hospital mining that territory pretty thoroughly in 1971, it's definitely one of the craziest.

A mostly plotless snapshot of life in a rundown London hospital, the film alternates between the patients in various states of recovery or medical need (including a great Colin Blakely and a shockingly young Bob Hoskins) and deliberately artificial, exaggerated depictions of hospitals as seen on TV shows like Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare with some soap opera flavoring. (If you think that style went out of vogue, Grey's Anatomy would beg to differ.) In the fantasy scenes the nurses are bubbly sex kittens and the doctors are smooth operators always doing the best for their patients, while in real life everything from class conflict to racism to sexism and even mercy killing raises its head. The lack of sufficient budgets is a recurring The National Healththeme as well, with daily care and even operations hobbled by a need for resources. The National Health

Mainly though it's an opportunity for a prime cast to sink its teeth into some fun roles, with Jim Dale (a Carry On veteran and future star of Pete's Dragon and legendary Harry Potter audiobook reader) the sole holdover from the stage version (and getting some of the most unsettling lines). Colin Blakely and Eleanor Bron (a great, still underrated actress best known for Bedazzled, Help! and Two for the Road) leading a pack that also includes Lynn Redgrave (top billed here but really more part of the ensemble) and even Ealing veteran Mervyn Johns (Dead of Night). Director Jack Gold (The Reckoning, Who?, The Medusa Touch) keeps things colorful and fast-paced throughout while juggling the dual tones of the story well enough to make one wonder why he never tackled any Dennis Potter TV projects.

Though not really a rare film, The National Health is something of an unknown gem due to its infrequent TV airings and below-the-radar history on home video. Weirdly, it actually hit DVD first in the United States as a The National Healthmade-on-demand DVD-R title from Sony, but that's easily disregarded in light of the 2017 limited dual-format release from Indicator. As usual the Sony-provided transfer looks terrific with an accurate replication of the look of the film stock from the era. The LPCM English mono audio with optional English SDH subtitles also sounds quite good, The National Healththough it's really just dialogue for the most part and doesn't show off any wild dynamic range. Nick Pinkerton moderates a new commentary with Dale, which is definitely not scene specific and instead goes into his background including pop singing and music hall performances before touching on his admiration for "angry writer" Nichols, the uncomfortable reactions from the live audience during the stage performances, and the acting tricks he picked up (like adopting "a voice like Sean Connery" here) and things he learned to avoid from working on the Carry On films. Nichols returns for a video interview (23m45s) that essentially works like a companion piece to his one on Indicator's Joe Egg release, here talking about how a hospitalization due to a collapsed lung inspired him to take notes and channel the experience into creative work. He particularly goes into the play's rocky reception at the National Theatre by Laurence Olivier, who objected to the "underbelly" view of Britain. Also included are the Tchaikovsky-scored theatrical trailer, a gallery of 20 stills, and the usual hefty insert booklet, lovingly illustrated, complete with a new essay by Laura Mayne and a smattering of period interviews, reviews, and press coverage from the theatrical release.

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Reviewed on September 15 , 2017.