Dame Judi Dench says latest film about old age pays tribute to NHS staff

Dame Judi Dench has said her upcoming film Allelujah speaks to the “debt we owe” NHS staff.

The veteran actress, 87, stars in the story about surviving old age alongside Absolutely Fabulous star Jennifer Saunders and Harry Potter’s David Bradley.

Based on the stage play by Alan Bennett and written by Call The Midwife screenwriter Heidi Thomas, the film was directed by Sir Richard Eyre.

European premiere of Allelujah – BFI London Film Festival 2022
Dame Judi Dench and director Sir Richard Eyre (Yui Mok/PA)

Dame Judi and Sir Richard arrived together at the movie’s European premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Sunday.

Sir Richard told the PA news agency: “It’s really important because the film is about old age, how we all look after old people, whether they be parents or grandparents, and how the country looks after the health of the National Health Service.”

Dame Judi, who plays Mary Moss in the film, added: “And the debt we owe them (NHS staff) too for doing it.”

Speaking about her reasons for becoming involved in the project, Dame Judi told PA: “Richard was my reason. And Alan (Bennett)…there were a lot of friends in it which is always very nice, a great luxury when you’re filming to have a few mates around.

“Being friends, being with somebody who you admire who you work with, having the luxury of all being together, you don’t have to go through that process of getting to know somebody, we already knew each other so it was a great ease.”

Sir Richard said he hoped people “take a desire to take care of the people that you love” after watching the film.

He added: “In a sense, every day was a highlight because every day we had actors who actually were friends and who I think are completely wonderful.

“So every day I looked forward to because I’d be working with friends who, in Judi’s case, happened to be geniuses.”

The film, set in the geriatric ward of a small Yorkshire hospital, is about how people fight back when the hospital is threatened with closure.

Saunders, who plays Sister Gilpin in the film, told PA: “Richard Eyre asked me too and I had just done a play with him and he’s an amazing director so I completely trusted that he knew what it was doing.

“It’s got amazing names and Judi Dench is in it, I mean what’s not to love.

“Especially after the years that we’ve just been through and it’s always in the news, what about social care and the NHS and I don’t think it’s ever not relevant.”

Saunders added that social care “needs thinking about”.

“It’s not resolved and you can’t just throw money at it,” she said. “It needs every one of us to think about it, because it’s going to happen to all of us.”

Bradley, best known for playing caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films, said working with Dame Judi was something he had always hoped to achieve.

“Judi is somebody, I knew her family, we both come from York… It’s always been my dream to work with her and although we didn’t have any direct scenes together, it was a treat just being in the same screen,” he said.

“For me working with the likes of Richard Eyre, Alan Bennett and Heidi Thomas, great writing and I think it’s going to provoke a lot of debate about the issues.

“Anything set in an NHS facility is bound to create some kind of conversation but I just think it’s a great story.

“I just hope people enjoy the characters living in the NHS hospital and the people who work there under very difficult conditions, which we know about, and I hope it brings open a lot of debate about something which is a very topical issue.”

Famous faces walked the red carpet in support of their family members starring in the film – including Lord Of The Rings actor Andy Serkis who was supporting his son Louis Serkis-Ashbourne and wife Lorraine Ashbourne, and Poldark star Eleanor Tomlinson in support of her brother Ross.

Allelujah is released on February 17 2023.