Lars Von Trier has made a career out of the strange and the controversial.
From his involvement in the Dogma 95 Danish movie manifesto, to the sexually explicit content of The Idiots, right up to Antichrist and his Nazi outburst at this year’s Cannes film festival – Von Trier is anything but mainstream in his opinions, ideas or his output.
This anti-commercialism is most interestingly investigated in Von Trier’s 1994 Danish television mini-series, The Kingdom – a surreal slice of TV drama that merges E.R with Twin Peaks, set in a supernatural neurosurgical ward dealing with the conflict between science and spirituality.
The hospital is Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, the city and country’s main hospital, nicknamed Riget, which translates as ‘the realm’ or ‘the kingdom.’ From the opening of the very first episode we see a phantom ambulance arrive and things only get stranger as the story unfolds.
Within the white walls are a host of complex and eccentric characters dealing with the everyday admittances and health problems of their patients, while odd and eerie goings-on take place around them. Some unseen and others out in the open.
The central conflict is generated by proud workaholic Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Järegård), a Swedish neurosurgeon who has a love hate relationship with his new role in the Danish hospital. He feels constantly challenged by the younger members of his team and tormented by a botched operation which left a young girl mentally disabled, an event he is desperately trying to cover up.
At the same time hypochondriac spiritualist Sigrid Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes) tries everything she can to be admitted to hold séances for the spirits she is convinced roam the hospital, looking for peace and release. Written off as an unhinged old woman, when she hears the cries of a young girl coming from the lift, only her son (an orderly) will help her investigate. What they discover leads both them, and the audience to question what is really going on in The Kingdom.
Remade in the US by Stephen King who made a thirteen episode series based on Von Trier’s show named Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital, the original has never been available in the UK till now.
In the same way David Lynch’s sensational and surreal Twin Peaks took TV genre conventions and turned them on their head, The Kingdom does the same, mixing the expected hospital drama of diseases and death with the unexpected supernatural elements all to excellent and exciting effect.
Operations and office romances combine with secret societies and scary noises, all commented on by a modern day Greek chorus of dishwashers with Down Syndrome -who seem to know a lot more about what is really happening than anyone else.
The cast of talented actors do a great job changing up, as the hospital drama is interspersed with moments of black comedy, tragedy, creepiness and chaos. There is an omnipresent air of foreboding and fear helped along by the menacing location which keeps the viewer tense at all times, never knowing what could happen next.
It’s also filmed using a low-grade video camera which makes everything a muted sepia this adds to the atmosphere but slightly detracts from the viewing experience at times.
Oddly compelling even from the open, The Kingdom is definitely worth watching. This box-set features all 8 full-length original broadcast version’s from series one and two along with a host of special features. Sadly with the death of five regular cast members a third series of The Kingdom although planned and written never appeared.
A wild, weird ride that may leave you with more questions than it answers, The Kingdom will definitely entertain and scare you.
From its crazy opening credits and ominously overblown theme tune, to the closing where Von Trier himself gives us an insight in what to expect in the next episode, The Kingdom will keep you watching simply because its unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.