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Emmy Award-winning director, Susan Steinberg on her documentary about the dismantling of the NHS: Under the Knife

Narrated by award-winning actor Alison Steadman and endorsed by film director Ken Loach, Under the Knife is a 90-minute documentary unearthing how the NHS arrived at its modern-day crisis. From its stormy birth through seven decades of turmoil and political warfare, it has withstood almost everything that has confronted it, until now. Yet crucially, the film gives hope to those fighting to keep the NHS for future generations.

Under The Knife documentary from Pam Kleinot on Vimeo.

Susan Steinberg’s film Under the Knife – an investigative film about the systematic dismantling of the NHS – will be screened throughout England for FREE in over 50 locations next week (14-18 October).

Susan Steinberg is well known for her work on ‘90 Minutes on 60 Minutes’ a film which revealed the real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, the man who blew the whistle on Brown & Williamson for knowingly adding carcinogens to cigarettes – it was later adapted into a feature film starring Russell Crowe.

How did it come about?

Pam Kleinot, who had worked for many years in the NHS, asked me to join her in making a film about the health service in crisis. I also had worked in the NHS and knew this venerable institution had reached its breaking point. I had made other politically charged films in the United States and was eager to take on the challenge. 


What attracted you to the project?

I was born in the USA but moved to the UK twenty years ago, so I have witnessed the enormous social changes here that have brought about the current crisis. Like many people, I wanted to understand how we got into this position, and what we could do about changing it. People say that the NHS has the status of a religion in the UK. I wanted to understand how and why this brilliant institution was moving slowly but surely towards an American-style health system. Our film, Under the Knife, makes explicit the politics behind this move. The film shows how the NHS emerged from, and continues to be shaped by, social and political upheaval, from the Second World War to today. The story brings us to today’s turning point, where choices we make will have an impact on generations to come.


You are an Emmy-award winning director – what documentaries have you already made?

I made films on political topics for television in America, including two that were later adapted into feature films:

‘Edward R Murrow, This Reporter’ 

Ed Murrow, America’s most revered journalist, who had the courage to tackle Senator Joe McCarthy and was instrumental in his downfall. The documentary was later turned into the feature film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ by George Clooney.

‘90 Minutes on 60 Minutes’, 

This film revealed the real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand, the man who blew the whistle on Brown & Williamson for knowingly adding carcinogens to cigarettes. The story was then turned into the feature film ‘The Insider’ with Russell Crowe.


How did being an outsider, coming to the UK only as an adult, influence your perspective?

One of my mentors was the Swiss-born photographer, Robert Frank, 

He emigrated to the US after the war and travelled across the country, taking pictures of America’s underbelly for his book ‘The Americans’, one of the most important photography books of the 20th Century. It was through working with Frank that I learned the value of the outsider’s eye and the fresh point of view.

I came to UK with little understanding of the politics in my adopted country. I needed to understand the politics first, in order to figure out how the NHS had gone from being “the envy of the world” to a service that was on its knees. What I discovered became the basis for the story in Under the Knife.


What surprised you about making the film – what did you discover?

I was most struck by the fragility of a parliamentary democracy and how little power the people had once a government was voted in.


What are your hopes on its release?

The UK is at a turning point in history. My hope is that this film will reach as many people as possible – ideally by being shown on television and in cinemas, hospitals, schools and universities across the country. I hope it will inform people in a way that will turn ideas into action, that’s why we have been in partnership with Keep our NHS Public, the successful campaigning organisation which has kept Lewisham hospital open amongst others.

To book a free screening in one over 50 locations across the country visit:

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