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  Kingdom, The The Mad Doctors
Year: 1994
Director: Lars von Trier, Morten Anfred
Stars: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Søren Pilmark, Ghita Nørby, Jens Okking, Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Birgitte Raaberg, Peter Mygind, Udo Kier, Vita Jensen, Morten Rotne Leffers, Henning Jensen, Søren Elung Jensen
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Drama, Weirdo, TV SeriesBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: There's an ambulance parked outside the doors of this hospital, but there's something strange about it because although its lights are flashing, nobody ever emerges from it. For Dr Jørgen Krogshøj (Holger Juul Hansen), it's all in a night's work, but for new arrival on the head staff Dr Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Järegård), fresh from Sweden where he believes things are handled far better, the irritations mount up. The first thing to catch his ire is the CT Scan of a Mrs Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), who he thinks is a malingerer - and he's right, she's faking illness to get close to a ghost...

Although celebrated filmmakers had made television series before, they tended to be because they were famous enough for their names above the title to offer a certain cachet to make it clear that they were not resorting to a TV career because nobody wished to fund their big screen efforts. Come David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, however, the nineties television landscape benefitted from a selection of cultier shows, often not only influenced by way out cinema but actually produced by those self same creators who had made waves in film. For Denmark, there was only one man who could fit that bill.

He was Lars von Trier, then regarded as a talent worth investigating rather than the trickster that many thought he turned out to be, yet with this series, the first in 1994 and the follow up in 1997, he perhaps found his perfect setting. He had the space to expand on his ideas of winding people up as the ideal form of self-expression, yet married it to a plotline - several, as it played - that could indulge in both horror and comedy that seemed to fit the director, who scripted with Niels Vørsel, and his skewed worldview. It helped that he had a cast who were fully aware of how to bring the best out of this situation, and if there was one star who emerged from it head and shoulders above the others it was Järegård.

His Dr. Helmer was a superbly monstrous creation, arrogant, bigoted about his new Danish home, liable to petty campaigns against those who crossed him, and not as good a surgeon as he thought he was. One of the subplots detailed his attempts to squirm out of his culpability for brain damage in a little girl that he caused in a botched operation, leading to what in other series could have been the makings of a serious hospital drama, but in this case took in zombies and kidnapping, among other antics. The overriding view of these medical professionals was that they were borderline insane, whether through stress or through callousness, and there were plenty of candidates for both.

Although a huge budget was not used with The Kingdom (some of those special effects are pretty basic), the bizarre imagery it conjured up, not to mention the according atmosphere, was vivid. If von Trier was sceptical of the doctors, he was sold on anything that showed them up, so either they were holding arcane ceremonies or afflicted with ghosts, which latch on to Mrs Drusse as she battles against what seems to be one particularly nasty spirit, revealed to be far more powerful than she anticipated. With a neat line in cliffhangers, alas the final episode was the lead in to the never made series 3, which was cancelled when too many of the cast members had passed away or retired. The concept did make a sort of comeback when Stephen King remade/reconfigured it as his flop series Kingdom Hospital in 2004, but the fact that we never will find out the answers to all the marvellous, creepy, often hilarious questions of von Trier's original was truly a shame. Music by Joachim Holbek.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Lars von Trier  (1956 - )

Notoriously eccentric Danish writer, director and producer, a graduate of the Danish Film School, who has capitalised on international acclaim and disdain in equal measure. Thrillers Forbrydelsens Element and Epidemic started the ball rolling, with distinctive war drama Europa really setting von Trier up as a talent to watch.

Breaking the Waves, the first in a series of victim stories, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and his fame spread, especially as he had teamed up with three other directors to create the Dogme '95 rules of filmmaking - controversial The Idiots was von Trier's result. Then Dancer in the Dark, a musical starring Bjork, proving he was anything but predictable, and Dogville, a scabrous attack on American small town life.

He was next involved in The Five Obstructions, a documentary which revealed much about his methods. Then, a thematic follow-up to Dogville, slavery drama Manderlay, which was followed by little seen comedy The Boss of It All and most controversially, his relationship goes to hell horror Antichrist.

His drama Melancholia won its star Kirsten Dunst Best Actress at Cannes, but he was ordered to leave after a press conference faux pas, then returned with the patience-testing, two part Nymphomaniac. After a gap, he made bleak horror comedy The House That Jack Built, to more controversy. On television, he created the superb horror series The Kingdom, and he frequently casts Udo Kier.

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