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The Kingdom I & II (1994)
5th Oct 11
Be prepared to take the Good, with the Evil… Spooky things are going down at Denmark’s largest hospital.
Review The Kingdom, or Riget as it was known in its native country, was created by Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier. Broadcast in two seasons (1994 & 1997), with four episodes in each, The Kingdom is now finally available for the first-time ever in the UK on DVD in its original broadcast form.
Prior to this DVD release it had been edited into a five-hour movie for the UK and American markets. Both seasons are rightly highly regarded by critics and fans and have won a number of awards as well as a deserved cult following. Shot documentary-style and given a healthy dose of humour that doesn't jar with the central premise makes for solid entertainment.
In Copenhagen's Rigshospitalet the neurosurgical staff, plus one particularly inquisitive patient-cum-psychic, find that it’s not just petty internal squabbles that threaten to undermine the city and country’s main hospital’s general well-being. There are dark forces and supernatural occurrences threatening to take control.
Every episode opens with a narrated prologue explaining how the hospital had been built on what was once the site of bleaching ponds – although the relevance of this to the actual plot is kind of a red herring as it adds nothing.
However with a phantom ambulance, freaky birth and a ghost of a young girl spooking up proceedings there's plenty here for genre fans to get their teeth into and it certainly delivers. Season Two piles on even more ludicrous but amusing scenarios involving zombie potions, a gun-wielding spurned lover and more of the Dutch hating Swedish doctor and his pending lawsuit.
With a myriad of plot strands leaving the viewer little room to catch their breathe von Trier has short scenes with the hospital’s two dishwashers (both with Down Syndrome) to effectively recap and provide pointers for what’s to come.
The show’s real standouts are Sigrid Drusse, a patient who feigns illness to remain within the hospital to provide spiritualistic support to terminal patients and Stig Helmer, a Danish-hating Swede neurosurgeon faced with a malpractice suit after leaving a young girl patient with permanent brain damage.
Surprisingly given how spiteful the character of Helmer is and his loathing of the nation of Denmark and each and every Dane actor Ernst-Hugo Järegård was incredibly popular on the back of playing the role and even became something of a sex symbol.
The Kingdom owes a debt to the likes of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Where Lynch used the mystery surrounding the murder of a certain Laura Palmer as the stem from which all sorted eccentrics were introduced to us, Lars Von Trier does the same using a fairly conventional ghost story outline to anchor a bunch of well drawn and eclectic characters.
Lars von Trier has proved his worth as a director of note with Antichrist and Breaking the Waves however here he flexes a dark humour lacking elsewhere on his career CV and with the likes of cult actor Udo Kier in the cast he has evidently done his homework in trying to match Lynch's Twin Peaks in terms of ensuring cult status for The Kingdom.
Lars von Trier pops up at the end of each episode goading his audience with his pompous negativity, a touch that affects the overall effect of an otherwise excellent and unique production.
Considered by some to be the best ghost story since Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining it’s no wonder it came to the attention of Stephen King who based his TV series Kingdom Hospital upon The Kingdom with largely dissatisfying results.
It's a shame that a third season was never optioned, despite having been written, to tie up some of the loose ends from Season Two. However as the extras bring to light many of the key cast had passed away, including Ernst-Hugo Järegård (who plays irate Swede Stig Helmer) and Kirsten Rolffes (Mrs Drusse), soon after so it's probably for the best that The Kingdom remains as it is with its unsolved plot strands only adding more to its mystic and appeal.
Versions Special features on this four-DVD collectors (Original Broadcast Edition) set include:
Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars Von Trier
In Lars Von Trier’s Kingdom
Behind the Scenes
TV commercials directed by Lars Von Trier
Selected scene commentaries