DVD review: Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom

QUIRKY TV series’ are always difficult to peg.

Sometimes they can be strange-yet-compelling while others can be so mental that the entire premise borders on insane.

With Lars von Trier – the man behind Antichrist – helming this Danish eight episode series, it’s safe to say that The Kingdom falls into the latter category.

Centred in Kingdom Hospital – or Riget, to be presise – it follows all manner of odd characters through the corridors and in the wards.

It’s explained that the hospital was built on the site of the ‘bleaching ponds’ – and now something supernatural is haunting the place.

The main players in the story are Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Jaeregaard), creepy junior doctor Jorgen Hook (Soeren Pilmark), and elderly hypochondriac, Mrs. Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes).

Opening with the appearance of a phantom ambulance at the front doors to Riget, things just get more bizarre and twisted as the series progresses.

Mrs Drusse continually admits herself to the hospital with all sorts of ailments – but she’s only interested in finding out who is behind the crying she hears coming from the elevator shaft.

Two of the more controversial casting decisions surround the kitchen staff – both of whom have Down’s Syndrome – acting as a conduit between the main characters and viewers.

There’s even a pregnant woman whose unborn child is growing at a scary rate.

Despite the slow pace of the opening episode, things definitely start to pick up as the series progresses with more bizarre happenings that can’t help but be likened to Twin Peaks. Remember that?

And this is the downside to such a strange concept for a TV series. Regardless of how original or whacky it attempts to be, the comparisons with David Lynch‘s groundbreaking show are inevitable, though unfair if truth be told.

Don’t be fooled. The Kingdom is full of satire, humour, great characters and atmosphere that help it stand on its own.

It may be Marmite TV (you’ll love it or hate it) – but it will definitely get you hooked, although some will become frustrated at the focus on plot rather than character development.

The aesthetic is top drawer. From handheld cameras to a washed out look on screen, The Kingdom has a visual style all its own, and it’s all the better for it.

As for the actual nuts and bolts of the show, there’s plenty there to entertain those who appreciate a more offbeat style but others will just be put off. The main stars provide good performances – with Jaeregaard in particular happy to go all out and ham it up with some memorable scenes.

First released in 1994, it’s refreshing to see it getting a DVD release here in the UK. Fans of the offbeat will be in for a treat.

Horror author Stephen King attempted his own US version of the show – called Kingdom Hospital – and it flopped. Where possible, avoid that catastrophe and get one board with von Trier’s effort.

Not for everyone, but those who do invest their time in The Kingdom will not be let down.

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