on 24 October 2014
Back in 1994, Lars von Trier offered to Danish television his first TV series, the Kingdom (Riget). A four episode per season saga that gave Lars his first popular success with the public. Set over three weeks, this first season of the Kingdom (Riget in Danish) is the story of the Neurosurgical department in RigHospitalet, an important hospital that really exists in Copenhagen.
Though all characters are fictitious, each one is a wonderful opportunity for us to uncover the reality, neuroses, and obsessions in the hospital business. Behaviours that one could recognize whether in Denmark, United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada, or anywhere else. Indeed, Lars and his collaborators even mentioned that they inspired themselves off of real incidents, adding a closer seriousness to the stories and the characters.
Among the most important are Stig Helmer, a Swedish consultant who's under an important medical investigation due to an unethical operation he did on Mona, a twelve year old. Mrs. Drusse, an hypochondriac medium who investigates paranormal activities in the hospital. Hook, a junior employee at war with Stig and in love with Judith, another doctor at the hospital. Moosegard, the naive and innocent manager of the Neurosurgical department. AND the dishwasher employees working in the basement, aware of what is going on in the hospital, of what others do not know about the hospital's secrets, and what may occur to the department's employees.
More than twelve characters share the spotlight in this mini series that was supposed to be of three parts. Two of them already completed, the third one written, but never shot because some of the actors died after the second season. Which is too bad. So the Kingdom remains incomplete, unless Lars would decide to recast his actors, or to put his story in another medium like video games or comic books. After all if David Lynch and Mark Frost are returning to Twin Peaks twenty-five years after the last episode, maybe Lars could do it too. Who knows!
So why watch the Kingdom?
Well, first for the storytelling. We have a medical drama set as a soap opera, but diving into layers like comedy, ghosts stories, politics, and voodoo. A melting pot of different storytelling genres always set in a same location, the Hospital.
Two, the visuals. The Kingdom is filmed in a claustrophobic style. Hand-held cameras focusing on the actors and editing involving jump cuts and grainy camera effects, the series gives us the feeling we're watching a documentary, although certain fixed shots or detailed camera movements do occur to break that illusion. Shots involving special effects or terrifying camera movements. Although some green screen effects may pale in comparison to what Lars did with breaking the Waves, Antichrist and Melancholia, the effects work in favour of the show, reinforcing the surrealism in the episodes.
Three, the acting. This series offers actors performing in a natural and realistic manner, everything enhanced with the camera cuts and continuity effects. Making you feel that they are real individuals whose lives we are witnessing over one hour episodes. Though we may not be aware of everything that they are doing. As such, everyone gives an excellent performance. Especially the ghost in this season, whose name I will not reveal, but who had important scenes in the fourth episode, where she gives a very moving one with another spirit.
Four, Lars von Trier. Since his career started in 1984, his name stands out among today's directors. From Element of Crime till Nymphomaniac and his upcoming series the House that Jack built, Lars has shaken the cinema art form with movies that have either infuriated or impressed viewers. All reacting in ways that reveal about those viewers either their true nature, their personal hypocrisies, or their perceptions of the world and of themselves. Of their neuroses and demons. From the Kingdom, then with his breakthrough masterpiece Breaking the Waves till Nymphomaniac, Lars gives Bovarist stories where, through the female heroines of his stories, he has revealed his own fears and anxieties, but also gave more opportunity to his actors. An actor director's work where many actors offered astonishing performances that have given international recognition. Like Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, and Katrin Cartlidge for Breaking the Waves, Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, and Charlotte Gainsbourg since Antichrist till Nymphomaniac.
As such, this series is one of the best entries into the world of Lars von Trier. And one awesome TV series to watch and rewatch.