Review: The Legacy (Arvingerne) 1×1 (UK: Sky Arts 1; Denmark: DR1)

Arvingerne

In the UK: Wednesdays, 10pm, Sky Arts 1
In Denmark: Aired on DR1 in January 2014. Season two starts January 2015

The Danes are apparently the happiest people in the world (okay, third happiest, having dropped off the top spot this year). You wouldn’t know this from their TV, of course, which is full of serial killers and murderers (The Killing, Those Who Kill) and political intrigue (Borgen), as well as sometimes a mix of the two (The Bridge).

Even their family dramas are a bit gloomy, it turns out. A case in point is the ten-part The Legacy (Arvingerne), which like Those Who Kill has been poached away from its natural Scandi home of BBC4 in favour of AN Other Channel (Sky Arts 1 this time). The series, which comes from the same production company as The Killing, follows noted artist, free spirit and multiple-partnered Veronika Grønnegaard (Kirsten Olesen), who has a less than happy relationship with her three children, who pretty much all hate her guts, but for entirely different reasons: daughter Gro (Trine Dryholm) is miffed at being judged for ‘only’ being a secretary at Grønnegaard’s own firm and for not having any kids; Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund) has had a bust-up so epic that he hasn’t spoken with Veronika for a year and actively tries to stop his own son from seeing her; and Emil (Mikkel Følsgaard) is off on another continent altogether.

Then there’s Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) who doesn’t even know she’s Veronika’s daughter, despite Veronika dropping into her flower shop and giving her free paintings for no well explained reasons.

But Veronika, being an artistic type, decides to screw the whole lot of them over by failing to mention she has breast cancer and then promptly dying of a stroke, leaving her much sought after house and estate to Signe to divide up between herself and her newfound siblings. That’s going to end well, isn’t it?

The extent you’re going to find The Legacy tolerable is how much you can tolerate both happiness and sadness. Despite their bad relationships with Veronika, all the families seem to be largely happy and enjoying Christmas, dressing up as Santa, having family meals together and losing track of time as they play percussion instruments together out in huts. No one’s poor and even when revelations about infidelities, bad parenting, different parentage et al crop up, no one’s dischuffed enough to even raise their voice much.

True, in case Frederik’s case, that might well be because he’s a closet psychopath whose wife is intensely freaked out by his behaviour, but he’s still a psychopath who continues joking around in his Santa outfit after getting the bad news about his mum, just to make sure his son has a nice time.

If you find all that happiness and luxury nauseating and weird, steer clear of The Legacy. Equally, if you fear family strife, dying parents, illness, old people looking like they’re dementing, upset children, will contention and slightly psychopathic sons who really want the family home, steer clear.

There’s not much by way action, which I’m sure will change with episode two, as upset siblings glare at each other and talk in hushed tones when they’re really angry (okay, maybe not psycho Frederik). But it’s a good start with different characters from the usual set you’re probably used to in such family dramas. It’ll probably be a bit ‘eat your greens’, and I suspect I’ll have to force myself to watch these, even though I did quite enjoy the first episode, but we’ll see if the show manages to up the ante in subsequent weeks. Simple scheduling maths should tell you that people should be at each other’s throats at this rate by, ooh, round about Christmas. That’ll be something to look forward to, won’t it?

  • JustStark

    That reminds me, I never did get around to seeing the bundle of joy that is Festen.

  • JustStark

    That reminds me, I never did get around to seeing the bundle of joy that is Festen.

    • Dogma/Dogme and Lars von Trier in general have never really appealed to me. Are there any good ones?

      • JustStark

        The only one I’ve seen is Dear Wendy, which I vaguely remember being okay (so it can’t have made that much impression either good or bad).

        I keep meaning to see some of them because of what I hear about their overt, unashamed theatricality (Festen and especially Dogville) because as I have mentioned before I think that modern mainstream cinema limits itself by its insistence on representationalism as not just the default but the only allowable mode of operation.

        Hm, I actually can’t remember whether I was The Kingdom or not — I know i saw Kingdom Hospital and it was interesting but somewhat lacking. Perhaps I shall seek out The Kingdom again just to check it out.

        • Isn’t dogma supposed to be entirely naturalistic rather than theatrical – everything done on location, no post production, handheld camera work, that sort of thing?

          • JustStark

            I think so. I never paid that much attention to it.

            But that sort of thing does lend itself to a kind of theatrical sensibility in that without being able to distract with visuals or sound, and with limited editing, the dialogue becomes the main thing of interest — just like on stage. So I understand that Festen is more like a Stringberg play in the way it works, than a modern film.

            (And, more relevantly to the article, it features a miserable family which is rotten at its heart.)

            However, you also mentioned ‘Lars von Trier in general’ and that’s what I was mostly thinking of because of things like Dogville.

            Basically, I was mainly thinking of Danish cinema in general rather than specifically ‘dogma’ with the comment about Festen.

            And now I will close with one of my favourite Bertie Wooster descriptions: ‘She looked like something that might have occured to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments’.

  • Dogma/Dogme and Lars von Trier in general have never really appealed to me. Are there any good ones?

  • JustStark

    The only one I've seen is Dear Wendy, which I vaguely remember being okay (so it can't have made that much impression either good or bad).

    I keep meaning to see some of them because of what I hear about their overt, unashamed theatricality (Festen and especially Dogville) because as I have mentioned before I think that modern mainstream cinema limits itself by its insistence on representationalism as not just the default but the only allowable mode of operation.

    Hm, I actually can't remember whether I was The Kingdom or not — I know i saw Kingdom Hospital and it was interesting but somewhat lacking. Perhaps I shall seek out The Kingdom again just to check it out.

  • Isn't dogma supposed to be entirely naturalistic rather than theatrical – everything done on location, no post production, handheld camera work, that sort of thing?

  • JustStark

    I think so. I never paid that much attention to it.

    But that sort of thing does lend itself to a kind of theatrical sensibility in that without being able to distract with visuals or sound, and with limited editing, the dialogue becomes the main thing of interest — just like on stage. So I understand that Festen is more like a Stringberg play in the way it works, than a modern film.

    (And, more relevantly to the article, it features a miserable family which is rotten at its heart.)

    However, you also mentioned 'Lars von Trier in general' and that's what I was mostly thinking of because of things like Dogville.

    Basically, I was mainly thinking of Danish cinema in general rather than specifically 'dogma' with the comment about Festen.

    And now I will close with one of my favourite Bertie Wooster descriptions: 'She looked like something that might have occured to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments'.

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