80,000 Suspects [film]
Are we all having fun social distancing? How about a film about a smallpox outbreak to cheer everyone up?
Medical dramas aren't my thing, and while romance novels generally don't appeal to me anyhow, the ones featuring doctors and nurses or doctors and anyone else would definitely be at the bottom of my 'romances to read' pile. Yet when Talking Pictures* tweeted that they were showing 80,000 Suspects I decided I had to watch it. Why? Because it's set in Bath. My nearest city. My workplace, pre-covid.
The film opens with a New Year's Eve party at the Pump Room in Bath. For anyone not familiar with the city, that's the Georgian bit built over/next to the Roman Baths. And you could've knocked me over with a bottle of hand sanitiser: they actually filmed there. Even if they'd managed to make a decent fake, some partygoers also went out to get up to all the things partygoers like to do (yes, snog) out by the Roman Baths themselves. I've been to enough parties at the Pump Room and Roman Baths to recognise it.
As the film opens, two doctors' marriages are hitting the skids. Married Dr Steven Monks (Richard Johnson) has had an affair with Ruth Preston (Yolande Donlan), a colleague's wife. Ruth gets hammered at the party; nice nurse and maligned spouse Julie Monks (Claire Bloom) drives her home. (It's a very scenic bit of the film, so I was bouncing up and down at this point: "Look! It's the Abbey! Oh, they really filmed at the Circus!") But then a young man is admitted to hospital with a serious disease – smallpox – and the authorities need to clamp down before there's an epidemic. It was interesting seeing the doctors and other people in charge trying to stop the disease spreading, tracking down the young man who was the first patient with the disease, and visiting various places round Bath.
Obviously location and situation made the whole thing more appealing to me. As the local authorities meet at the Guildhall (cue more excited squeaking from me) I reflected on how things were being dealt with at a local level, something which I know many regional authorities wish they could do when it comes to things like covid testing now.
The hospital exterior baffled me: it definitely wasn't a location I knew. Google has since come to my rescue, and it's a grand house that's now the Bath Spa Hotel, but after changing owners and usage (including being the residence of Haille Selassie, Emperor of Abyssinia) it became a nurses' home after the war. Another conundrum was the open ground which appeared to be near the Pavilion; I twigged after a bit that this was the Rec before the rugby ground and sports centre were constructed. Mr Robot was intrigued by the Sombrero Coffee Bar, but I think that and the Crossings Hotel were made up for the film. And I was surprised Ruth and her husband had a house on Bath's famous circular Georgian street The Circus. Last time I remember a house coming up for sale there it was for about £15 million. Midcentury medicine clearly paid well.
Anyway, the dashing doctors are trying to treat patients. Nice nurse Julie also answers the call for medical professionals to do their bit, volunteering to help with nursing. And Ruth... goes to London. Slowly the outbreak's brought under control with vaccination and contract tracing. But then Julie gets smallpox! And Ruth's husband outright asks Steven about the affair. As though a killer contagion wasn't enough for these people. Finally, there's one last person they need to track down, a mysterious Mrs Bradley. Mr Bradley's already died, but his wife, who was also staying with him at the hotel, has disappeared.
No prizes for guessing who Mrs Bradley really is. Philandering Dr Monks is allowed to have a happy reunion with his wife (who, frankly, deserves much better), but serial adulteress Ruth has no such blissful ending.
I enjoyed this film much more than I expected to, and probably much more than anyone less familiar with Bath would. Keep an eye on Talking Pictures' schedule in case it crops up again if it sounds interesting to you.
*In the UK? Check their listings. So many obscure old gems on that channel. And they're on Freeview as well as cable.