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BAZ BAMIGBOYE: It’s the best of British for Alan Bennett’s black comedy 

National treasures Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi will star in a new film based on a play by another legend, Alan Bennett.

The playwright’s last work, hospital drama Allelujah!, has been adapted by Heidi Thomas, creator of the BBC’s award-winning period drama Call The Midwife.

Thomas, the brains behind the BBC1 series set in an East London convent, has opened up Bennett’s acerbic, politically subversive piece (almost a black comedy) set in the geriatric ward of a Yorkshire hospital, the Bethlehem, which is threatened with closure.

It was staged at the Bridge Theatre three years ago, with Nicholas Hytner directing a company that included Deborah Findlay, Julia Foster, Simon Williams and Nicola Hughes.

Sir Derek Jacobi

National treasures Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi will star in a new film based on a play by another legend, Alan Bennett

Jennifer Saunders and Julia McKenzie will also star in the film, which is in pre-production.

Dame Judi will play a former librarian, who is now a patient on the hospital’s Dusty Springfield ward.

Dench, by the way, is a member of the ensemble cast of Kenneth Branagh’s new film Belfast, set in his hometown in 1969. 

It’s going to the London Film Festival next month and has already been hailed as one of the year’s best pictures (and rightly so!).

The playwright's last work, hospital drama Allelujah!, has been adapted by Heidi Thomas, creator of the BBC's award-winning period drama Call The Midwife

The playwright’s last work, hospital drama Allelujah!, has been adapted by Heidi Thomas, creator of the BBC’s award-winning period drama Call The Midwife

Jacobi will take on the part of another patient — a former headmaster. 

While Saunders, who is now appearing as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Harold Pinter Theatre, is in negotiations to play a ward sister obsessed with the bladder control (or lack thereof) of her charges.

McKenzie, who has played Miss Marple on tv and is an award-winning stage artist, will play a one-time child soprano, who once gloried in the name ‘the Pudsey Nightingale’.

Jennifer Saunders (left) and Julia McKenzie will also star in the film, which is in pre-production

Julia McKenzie

Jennifer Saunders (left) and Julia McKenzie will also star in the film, which is in pre-production

She has been admitted to the crumbling institution with an ankle injury. It seems appropriate for McKenzie to be playing a singer; some of her most famous roles have been in musicals, such as Follies and Sweeney Todd.

Call The Midwife’s Thomas knows her way around the world of medicine, having steered the BBC’s ratings winner through ten seasons — its 11th will start next year following a Christmas special.

I’m told she has added a coda in her screenplay that acknowledges the coronavirus pandemic. Casting continues on the other key roles.

Watch out for… 

  • Boy George and Luke Evans, who are expected to join the original and later companies of musical Taboo, by Mark Davies Markham, for a special fundraising concert to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary.

Producer Adam Kenwright, who put on the original, has begun to assemble a cast that could include Dianne Pilkington, Declan Bennett and Julian Clary. 

It will be directed by Christopher Renshaw at the London Palladium on January 30 in aid of Terrence Higgins Trust and Shelter (lwtheatres.co.uk).

Boy George and Luke Evans, who are expected to join the original and later companies of musical Taboo, by Mark Davies Markham, for a special fundraising concert to celebrate the show's 20th anniversary

Boy George and Luke Evans, who are expected to join the original and later companies of musical Taboo, by Mark Davies Markham, for a special fundraising concert to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary

  • Ann Hampton Callaway, the U.S. pop-jazz singer, who will treat Londoners to two of her shows. 

Tonight and tomorrow she’ll be at The Pheasantry in Chelsea, with The Judy Garland Songbook. On Sunday and Monday she’ll sing movie themes at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. Find ticket details at pizzaexpresslive.com.

Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell and Billy Crudup wade knee-deep into the murky waters of breakfast tv in the gripping second season of The Morning Show, streaming on AppleTV+ from today.

I watched seven of the ten episodes and found Aniston’s anchor Alex Levy compelling viewing — though she’s not, thankfully, half the diva Piers Morgan has become.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk