Wednesday 02 April 1997
Phew. The Kingdom is, of course, a comedy, drenched in the deadpan black humour that Scandinavians do so well. The televisual technique was a slick spoof of the messiness of modern American cop shows: in particular, the rhythmic double-take motif of Homicide, whereby an action is shown twice in rapid succession from differing camera angles, was roped in to emphasise a neurologist's clicking off his Dictaphone. This comic resonance to trivial actions was also apparent in the passionate but half-whispered arguments in medical conference (a junior doctor ordered a CT scan for a malingering biddy, thereby infuriating his superior), and in the wittily emphatic backwards music, which crescendoed massively at tiny crises to a blip - the rest was silence.
In contrast to the hysterically hectic hospitals of ER or Casualty, the Kingdom seemed to have only two patients, one of them the aforementioned old woman, who complained of a tingling right hand but was actually investigating a psychic disturbance in the lift shaft. The doctors, meanwhile, had all the requisite romantic problems: a student cut the head off a corpse to present to the object of his unrequited lusts, while another woman provoked the irascible senior neurologist, Stig, by playing with his hair and cooing: "My little August Strindberg - you've even got the same curls!"
This man Stig made a wonderfully stylish villain: exiled from Sweden to Denmark ("this accursed land") by a dark act of research fraud, he has no patience with his patients, referring to a child he operated on, and left with permanent brain damage, as "that snot-nosed kid".
Meanwhile, two Down's syndrome characters, forever hosing down plates in an unreasonably large canteen, provided gnomic commentary in the manner of a Greek chorus. "Children cry when something is sad. Adults cry when something is sorrowful. But what happens when a building cries?" What, indeed?
For all its silliness, the first episode of The Kingdom had by the end hooked you on something genuinely spooky: this admixture of wit and atmosphere being made possible only by the kind of slow pacing and understated performances that are poison to most commercial television producers. My kingdom for a Norse, as they wouldn't cry.
Over on Channel 4, Witness was trying to overplay the creepiness of another institution: the mother-and-baby unit of Askham Grange prison, Yorkshire, where infants are born and grow up with their inmate mothers until the age of 18 months. In order to justify its title, Babies Behind Bars, the film seized every opportunity to film a baby - wait for it - through some bars, even though, since there were none of your actual cage-like bars in evidence around the mock-Tudor turreted building, it had to plump for the bars of a playpen, or the wrought-iron curlicues of the main gate.
Otherwise, Jane Beckwith's film was an affectingly ambivalent look at the lives of these women, banged up with their children in a pretty relaxed regime for shoplifting, large-scale fraud, or attempted GBH ("I glassed one of my mates ... I wouldn't mind but there was not a mark left on her. I could've done better with my fingernails"). The babies were doing porridge while entirely innocent, but there was no easy conclusion to draw, since it was unclear whether they would enjoy a comparable stability - regular meals, warmth, a creche - on the outside. The other potential villains of the piece, meanwhile, were conspicuous by their absence - an absence which they had engineered, since they were the absconding fathers.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men