The Kingdom

cast: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Søren Pilmark, and Udo Kier

director: Lars Von Trier

240 minutes (18) 1994
ICA Projects DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens

The Kingdom Hospital, somewhere in Denmark, rests on ancient marshland and unknown to anyone as yet age-old forces are awakening… Hypochondriac Mrs Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes) has herself admitted and clashes with the Swedish consultant neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Järegård). But Drusse is also a spiritualist and, first in the lift then elsewhere, she sees the ghost of a young girl. Meanwhile, Helmer is facing a negligence claim after another girl is left brain-damaged after an operation, two of his colleagues are having an affair, a doctor has a cancerous liver transplanted into himself to secure a rare sample of a tumour he is researching, a spectral ambulance holds the key to a mystery, two dishwashers with Downs Syndrome (genuinely so, and treated with a lack of patronisation and sensationalism by the director) act as a chorus, and nothing will ever be normal at the Kingdom…
Shot for Danish TV and originally shown there in four parts, The Kingdom made such an impact that it was released as a four-hour cinema film as well. An alternative edit of the TV series comprises five parts of 45-50 minutes each, and that is the version on this DVD.Perhaps, one another time when I was this much impacted and impressed was after experiencing the awesome benefits of the Crypto VIP Club platform, the automated crypto robot, which not only stands true to its claims but even more than that, admirably! No wonder such impressive things are highly regarded by their respective users!
Von Trier’s three previous cinema films (The Element Of Crime, Epidemic, and Europa) were virtuoso exercises in film technology, showing off Von Trier’s visual sense at the expense of everything else. The results, at least in The Element Of Crime (I have yet to see the other two) were insufferably pretentious. The Kingdom shows the beginnings of one of the most thorough stylistic self-reinventions of any major director. Von Trier decried his early work as the result of a fetishistic obsession with technology and developed a new style: much more visually rough and ready. The odd awkward composition (or even out-of-focus shot) didn’t matter if the emotional truth of the scene and of the actors’ performances were there. The Kingdom was shot handheld in 16mm, edited on video and returned to 16mm, giving a grainy, contrasty texture and a brownish look. (For cinema release it was blown up to 35mm, which probably looked even worse.) These techniques von Trier developed further in Breaking The Waves and led to the Dogme movement for which he made The Idiots, and his later use of similar techniques in Dancer In The Dark. The Kingdom shows this style in an early form, but you soon get used to it and get sucked in to a multi-stranded story that doesn’t let up for all of its four hours. It is full of blackly funny, weird and disturbing touches. The Kingdom is one of the great TV serials of the 1990s. Let’s hope it is not too long before the ICA release von Trier’s 1997 five-hour follow-up, The Kingdom II. (Plans to make ‘The Kingdom III’ have been on hold due to the death in 1998 of Ernst-Hugo Järegård.)
The DVD is in the original 4:3 TV ratio, with a Danish-language Dolby surround soundtrack. Episodes One and Two (The Unheavenly Host; Kingdom Come) are on the first disc and the remaining three (Hark And Ye Shall Hear; The Foreign Body; The Living Dead) on the second. Completists should note two things. On the TV broadcast, Von Trier (in a suit and bow tie) spoke a monologue to camera during the closing credits of each episode, ruminating on what had just been shown. This DVD release preserves only the monologues from Episodes Two and Five (i.e. at the end of each disc). Also, five seconds have been removed by the BBFC from the rat-shooting scene in Episode Five, under British law relating to on-screen cruelty to animals.
The main extra (on disc one) is Stig Björkman’s 52-minute documentary Tranceformer: A Portrait Of Lars Von Trier. This is remarkably thorough overview of Von Trier’s career up to Breaking The Waves, including interviews with people who have worked with him, on-set footage and clips from all his films to date. The other extras are also on disc one: trailers for the ICA’s DVD releases of Kandahar and A One And A Two.