14 September 2010

Big Picture: Britannia Hospital

Big Picture is the cultured younger brother of Big Ideas and the two have many good features in common.

Both events happen in London once a month and both allow you to stretch the thinking muscles in stimulating company. But Big Ideas struts its stuff flamboyantly in Fitzrovia whereas Big Picture prefers to lurk in Kensal Green. Thank the gods for Google Maps and the TfL Journey Planner.

The exact location is the marvellously exotic Paradise By Way of Kensal Green that has more rooms than seems sensible and which are put together in a way that most definitely isn't. These rooms are packed with what can only be called paraphernalia that somehow avoids looking cluttered. It's all a little odd and all the more attractive because of this.

The evening starts with a drink and a snack. Both are a little thin on the ground in a pub which seems to cater more for the volume consumer (a few of which are there to prove the point) than the connoisseur so its Becks Vier and a bowl of chunky chips for me.

Then as the clock strikes 7:30 the film begins and the twenty or so of us settle in to our chairs to watch.

This month's offering was Britannia Hospital a British black comedy from 1982.

Two minor things struck me immediately that I'll mention then move on to more serious things.

Like many British films it seems to delight in getting as many British actors as possible in to it and it took a little while to get used to seeing different versions of Robbie Coltrane, Leonard Rossiter, Robin Asquith, Thora Hurd, et al. Actually, some of the portrayals were not that unfamiliar possibly suggesting type-casting or limited acting ability.

The other surprise was the acceptably racist language of the age - it's a long time since I've heard words like "wog".

The film is somewhat hard to describe, as the post-film discussion confirmed, but it's safe to say that it includes belligerent trade unions, private medicine, class/royalty, police violence, colonialism mingled with racism, Frankenstein's monster and a very negative critique of the effect of humans on the planet.

The points are made mostly through humour and the violence is more Keystone Cops than SPG. Even the various heads coming off evoke more of a chuckle than a retch.

The discussion certainly helped me to appreciate the film tough there were, not surprisingly, some disputes among us as to what the film was trying to say and how it was trying to say it. I added a few comments to the mix, not letting my complete lack of knowledge of film get in the way of a good argument. Among these was the observation that the only winners in the film (if there were any winners and if winning mattered) were the two mobs.

The discussion and final beer over I headed home and was pleasantly surprised at how easy that was even if, to be completely honest, I ended up going on a slightly different route from the one I intended.

My first Big Picture was a great success on several fronts and did more than enough to tempt me back.

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