Created by Lars von Trier, Riget (The Kingdom) is a four-part TV mini-series about a Danish hospital that is haunted by strange occurrences relating to the supernatural. Directed by Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred and written by von Trier, Niels Vorsel, and Tomas Gislason. The TV mini-series is a mixture of horror and medical dramas taken to strange heights. Starring Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Soren Pilmark, Ghita Norby, Baard Owe, Birgitte Raaberg, and von Trier regular Udo Kier. Riget is a strange yet very exciting TV mini-series from Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred.
Episode 1: The Unheavenly Host
At the most technological advanced hospital in Denmark that was built on top of a mysterious mystical marsh some many years ago. Yet, something strange is going on at Kingdom hospital where top neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard) is about to attend a secret ceremony while dealing with young doctors who defy his authority. Particularly when an old woman named Sigrid Drusse (Kirsten Roffes) keeps checking because of she has no feeling in her arm. Yet, Drusse is really trying to contact a mysterious spirit she heard crying above the elevator as she asks her son Bulder (Jens Okking) to help her out. Meanwhile, a young student named Mogge (Peter Mygind) is causing trouble as he is attracted to an older doctor named Camilla (Solbjorg Hojfeldt) where he tries to give her a strange present.
Episode 2: Thy Kingdom Come
Helmer is under fire over a botched surgery that left a young girl named Mona (Laura Christensen) brain damage where the hospital’s manager Einar Moesgaard (Holger Juul Hansen) is trying to help Helmer with the situation. Meanwhile, Mogge is in trouble with his superior in professor Palle Bondo (Baare Owe) who is going through his own troubles over research for a tumor is being stopped by a patient’s family. During a surgery performed by Helmer, its patient sees a mysterious young girl (Annevig Schelde Ebbe) in the form of a ghost as it is the ghost Drusse has been trying to find. While Drusse comforts a dying woman who helps her make contact with the ghost learning her name is Mary. With Helmer dealing with lots of issues as he finds comfort in fellow doctor Rigmor Mortensen (Ghita Norby) as he attends another meeting with Moesgaard and Bondo.
Episode 3: A Foreign Body
After learning that a copy of report about Mona’s brain damage worries Helmer as he tries to get the report before the medical board reads it. Hook learns about the report as he tries to obtain the report with Mogge’s help where they had to go into the archives. Drusse makes a breakthrough about the secret ambulance that comes to the hospital every night as she thinks it has something to do with Mary. With Bulder’s help to gather archives about what happened to Mary, Drusse makes a big discovery about how Mary may had died as she wanted to go to Dr. Bondo for help. Yet, Bondo decides to take his study about a liver tumor to new heights following Helmer’s suggestion about taking the transplant since the patient had already signed up to be a donor years ago. When Hook’s pregnant girlfriend Judith Petersen (Birgitte Raaberg) finally gathers the report legally for Hook. Something strange is happening inside her while Drusse and Bulder get closer about what happened to Mary.
Episode 4: The Living Dead
In fear over what the chief medical officer might find in the report, Helmer decides to take a leave of absence as Moesgaard asks Helmer to be the presenter for a visit with the country’s health minister. Helmer agrees to do it as he tries to confront Hook about the report copy he obtained yet Hook has other problems to deal with. With Judith’s pregnancy going rapid as he and Mrs. Drusse thinks there is something wrong with her fetus. Mrs. Drusse makes a breakthrough in her discovery about what happened to Mary as she learns who her killer is. Hook helps Mrs. Drusse and Bulder out where he makes a discovery about Judith’s boyfriend (Udo Kier). With Dr. Bondo still ill from the surgery and Helmer fleeing to Haiti with a hospital worker, Moesgaard finds himself having to show the minister what goes on in the hospital as all hell breaks loose.
The TV mini-series is about a hospital that was built on a mysterious marsh where strange things happen as a spiritualist patient tries to communicate with the dead while a Swedish doctor is being accused of medical negligence. There’s a lot that goes on in the TV mini-series as some of it is told by a couple of dishwashers with Down syndrome who would also unveil things that would happen. Yet, each episode takes place in the span of 24 hours where something is going to happen.
The teleplay that is written by Lars von Trier and Niels Vorsel, with Tomas Gislason co-writing the shooting script with von Trier, has a structure of how each episode opens and ends. The episode always opens with a prologue about the marsh and its mysteries where a hospital was built in a state of arrogance by those wanting a hospital. After the prologue and the opening credits, each episode (with the exception of The Living Dead) has a simple way of setting each episode for its beginning and end. It always open with Dr. Helmer arriving into a special parking space with cones around his car as he takes out the hubcaps from the car and later make some complaints to parking security officers.
Then there’s the meeting led by Moesgaard where Helmer either doesn’t participate or makes some kind of complaint. Late in the episode, Helmer and Moesgaard go to a meeting with elders that included Bondo while all sorts of mayhem occur. Towards the end, Helmer is always looking up in the sky screaming “Danish scum” as the closing credits has Lars von Trier commenting on the episode and tells his viewers to take the good with the evil. That’s how the structure of each episode happens with the exception of The Living Dead as there’s changes that occur once the suspense starts to build up over the death of this girl many years ago. Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on throughout each episode that involves various characters that play up to the nightmarish horror that occurs or bring all sorts of strange humor that happens throughout the series.
The direction of Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred is truly hypnotic in the way they frame the scenes while shooting the project entirely with hand-held cameras where there’s a bit of shaky element to it. There’s parts of the film where things become very shaky for more intense, hyperactive moments while a lot of remains still and such with constant shots of an elevator looked from above or a shot of Helmer screaming with a camera above him. While it is a TV project that is a mixture of horror and hospital-based dramas, there is an element of humor that is quintessential to what von Trier is known for.
There’s also a lot of strange, surreal moments in the film where von Trier puts characters in very different set pieces to add the element of fantasy as they either face nightmares or discover some big clues. The way suspense is built is done in a very slow yet methodical rhythm where at times, it can go off kilter. What is revealed can be presented but not in particular the right moment as von Trier and Arnfred play with these rhythms. Some of it the horror moments play off in a form of dark humor or to the point where it will test a viewer’s idea of gore and such. Overall, this is truly an outstanding yet chilling project from Morten Arnfred and Lars von Trier.
Cinematographer Eric Kress does a fantastic job with the mini-series‘ stylish photography where it‘s dominated by a very grainy yet sepia-like orange palette for its look. Notably as it aims for a style that is a precursor to the Dogme 95 style that von Trier co-founded but with a large degree of style where everything seems very surreal. Editors Molly Malene Stensgaard and Jacob Thuesen do amazing work in the editing to create unconventional rhythms in the use of jump-cuts and other unique approach to pacing where it feels much looser in its tone for an episode that often averages for more than an hour.
Production designer Jette Lehman does an excellent job with the creation for some of the rooms and elevator lifts that happens in the hospital where it seems like a place that is about to fall apart no matter how modern it tries to be. Costume designer Bjarne Nilsson does a very good job with the costumes from the hospital coats and gear many of the cast wears to the pink bathrobe that Mrs. Drusse wears. Special makeup effect designers Kim and Lis Olsson do incredible work on the makeup for characters like Mary and Mona as the two young girls play up to the manic state their in. Visual effects work by Soren Buus does terrific work with the visual effects where it‘s meant to be cheesy and surreal for the superimposed backgrounds that is made along with transparent visual effects to play up the ghostly aspect of the mini-series.
Sound editors Per Streit and Hans Moller do a fantastic job with the sound work to build up the suspense of some parts of the mini-series including creating intimate yet chaotic moments in the board meeting scenes and other chilling moments. The music of Joachim Holbek is superb with its eerie electronic score to play up the drama and suspense along with brooding orchestral touches along with a thunderous theme song for the opening and closing credits for each episode.
The ensemble cast for the mini-series is truly spectacular for the people that is brought in for this project. In small but recurring roles, there’s appearances from Udo Kier in a flashback role as the mysterious Age Kruger as well as Judith’s boyfriend along with Louise Fribo as medical student Sanne, Birthe Neumann as Moesgaard’s secretary, Otto Brandenberg as orderly Hansen, Laura Christensen as the brain-damaged Mona, Annevig Schelde Ebbe as the ghost of Mary, and in the charming roles of the Down-syndrome dishwashers are Vita Jensen and Morten Rotne Leffers. Other notable supporting roles include Solbjorg Hojfeldt as sleep lab consultant Camilla, Jens Okking as Drusse’s orderly son Bulder, Peter Mygind as the lanky yet playful Mogge, and Birgitte Raaberg as Hook’s pregnant girlfriend Judith.
Baard Owe is excellent as Dr. Bondo, a part-time professor who takes a risk in taking a cancerous liver into his own body for his own research. Ghita Norby is wonderful as Rigmor, the only doctor who likes Helmer as she helps him with reports and such only to later be spurred by him. Soren Pilmark is superb as Hook, a competent doctor who helps out Mrs. Drusse while running a black market operation inside the hospital. Holger Juul Hansen is terrific as Mogge’s father and hospital manager Moesgaard who tries to make things easy for Helmer as well as wanting a very positive atmosphere in the Kingdom hospital. Kirsten Rolffes is great as Mrs. Drusse, a spiritualist who makes contact with ghosts as she leads the charge to uncover the mystery unaware of how far she has gone.
Finally, there’s Ernst-Hugo Jaregard in a very magnificent performance as Dr. Stig Helmer who despises the way of the Danes while wanting to maintain his own ideas of how to run things. It’s a very strong performance for the late Swedish actor who also brings in a great sense of energy and humor to his character no matter how un-likeable he is.
Riget is a remarkable yet extremely haunting TV mini-series from Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred. Featuring a great ensemble cast led by Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, it is a mini-series that is filled with lots of creepy and suspenseful moments as well as unique humor and an entrancing visual style. For fans of Lars von Trier, it is among one of his most essential works of his career as it’s also a must-see for those interested in medical dramas with a dash of horror. In the end, Riget is a phenomenal mini-series from Morten Arnfred and Lars von Trier that suggests to take the good with the evil.
Lars von Trier Films: The Element of Crime - Epidemic - Medea - Europa - Breaking the Waves - The Kingdom II - Dogme #2-Idioterne - Dancer in the Dark - Dogville - The Five Obstructions - Manderlay - The Boss of It All - Antichrist - Dimension (2010 short) - Melancholia - Nymphomaniac - The House That Jack Built - The Kingdom: Exodus - (Etudes)
Related: The Auteurs #7: Lars von Trier
Related: The Auteurs #7: Lars von Trier
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