Kingdom Hospital (2004)

Way back in 2004, BBC Two aired a 13-part miniseries based on “The Kingdom” a Danish series by Lars von Trier. This US adaption, retitled “Kingdom Hospital” was developed following this by the one and only Stephen King and made good use of a much larger budget for both special effects and casting.

What Is Kingdom Hospital About?

The miniseries is set in the fictional Kingdom Hospital in Lewiston, Maine. It is unlike any other hospital in both looks and what’s inside. This huge building that stands out completely from the rest of the town houses the oddest patients and staff you could ever imagine, including a near blind security guard, a German shepherd with an accent, a patient who believes she has psychic powers and a recently deceased man who’s missing a very important part of his body. Unfortunately for both patients and staff, there are some other matters that are troubling them. Such as the strange earthquakes that appear to only hit the hospital, the orderlies who for some reason have an odd affinity with the hospitals inner workings, and the crying of a little girl in the corridors – the empty corridors. Through the 13 episodes both doctors and patients band together to try and figure out the answers to not just these questions, but many more that need to be faced to save the hospital.

The History of the Hospital

The Kingdom Hospital featured in the series is not the first hospital to be built on those grounds. This is the second, and known as the “New Kingdom”. The first is now known affectionately as the “Old Kingdom” by those who remember it. But back before even the “Old Kingdom” was built there was another structure on the site. A clothing mill that manufactured military uniforms stood on this ground back during the Civil War, and was the workplace for hundreds of townsfolk – many of which were children. Those who ran the mill were cruel and unfeeling, treating their workers worse than you could imagine. They worked day and night for very little, and woes betide any person that stopped pulling their weight for even a second – even being a child wasn’t an excuse.

Who Is In The Hospital?

Many characters make up the population of Kingdom Hospital, both patients and staff. The only thing that unites the two is the fact that they are all completely mad – there are so many characters at the hospital so for now we’ll just focus on the ones that you see the most of, otherwise you could be reading for quite some time – and I will have RSI of the wrists and fingers!

Staff

Dr. Elmer Traff (Jamie Harrold): A young doctor who is only really at Kingdom because his father is an important doctor. He’s a surgeon who mainly spends his time dreaming of Dr. Lona Massingale. All hell breaks loose with this idiot when he manages to lose a head.

Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison): The most arrogant man at Kingdom, this neurosurgeon is constantly taking about how great his career in Boston was – despite the numerous malpractice suits against him. As much as he hates Kingdom he is dying to be initiated into the secret society called “The Keepers”.

Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy): Our dashing hero, he lives in the basement level of the hospital – which is a lot less creepy than you would imagine. He hates incompetence and has made it his life’s crusade to get rid of it among doctors. On that note as you can probably imagine, not a huge fan of Stegman.

Dr. Jesse James (Ed Begley Jr.): Mad as a box of frogs. He is the chief of staff at Kingdom, a member of the secret society and really spends most of his time trying to implement his newest initiative – “Operation Morning Air” complete with smiley pin badges. Yes, you heard me, he spends his time making badges and talking nonsense.

Otto (Julian Richings): Near blind and not exactly the most vital of men, it’s a real wonder why Otto is Kingdom’s security guard. But behind those inch thick specs lies a good man who just wants things to be normal at his place of work. He spends much of his time reading magazines not suitable for the hospital, watching the security camera feeds or talking to his German shepherd Blondi (Also voiced by Julian Richings), who we regularly hear the thoughts of (quite often in reply to Otto).

Christa and Abel (Jennifer Cunningham and Brandon Bauer): Kingdom’s orderlies are seemingly sweet and innocent, but many don’t give these two enough credit instead falling into believing the stereotypes about those with Down’s syndrome (Which they both have) – which they use to their advantage. These two are sharp as anything, love to play tricks (especially on Stegman) and know a lot more about the hospital than they let on – including the goings-on in the “Old Kingdom”. They have a psychic connection and see more than what is just in front of them.

Patients and Visitors

Sally Druse (Diane Ladd): A frequent patient at Kingdom, Stegman sees her as a useless annoyance that he wants to turf out of a hospital bed. But she has bigger matters to deal with, such as who is Mary and why does she cry so much? And who are the bad people causing all the trouble at Kingdom and why are they doing it? She sees herself as a psychic, though many don’t believe her, but that doesn’t stop her.

Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman): Famous artist Peter Rickman isn’t having a good day when on a break from his work he decides to go for a run, and is hit by a car. In those fleeting last minutes of consciousness things get progressively weirder and weirder, first in hearing what parts of him a crow is about to devour and then when a strange creature called Antubis offers to help him. He arrives at Kingdom Hospital in a critical condition and in a coma no-one has been able to rouse him from, but his comatose state becomes of vital importance to the mysteries of Kingdom.

Bobby Druse (Del Pentecost): Sally’s son, and an orderly at Kingdom. He does everything his mother tells him but has his reservations and worries about her.

Natalie Rickman (Suki Kaiser): Peter’s beloved wife, she barely leaves his side in the hospital and desperately holds onto hope that he will one day wake up. She becomes embroiled in Sally’s shenanigans early on though she refuses to believe any of the stories surrounding Kingdom.
Others

Mary Jensen (Jodelle Micah Ferland): Mary has a bell and has come to be seen as the bringer of death in some stories. She is very scared of Paul.

Paul Tarus (Kett Turton): A monstrous boy who terrifies Mary and has done for a long time, but it isn’t just Mary he has tormented.

Antubis (Voiced by Kett Turton): A key player in the survival of Peter who is trying to fix Kingdom. His favourite phrase is “I’ll do you a solid, you do me a solid”. He is fiercely protective of Mary and has a rather dark sense of humour, especially when it comes to Stegman.

Episodes

Here we come to the actual show, now if everything you’ve read so far seems like a lot you will get a real surprise watching the show as they have packed so much more into it. The miniseries style definitely suits the story as a full series would have been too long and dragged out the storylines, and a one off special would have been far too short to even make sense.

Thy Kingdom Come: In the two hour opener of the series Peter Rickman is hit by a car and left for dead, as if that wasn’t bad enough in his last fleeting minutes of consciousness he hears a crow talking about which part of him to eat first. However the crow goes hungry when a surprising saviour comes for Peter. Once admitted to Kingdom Peter finds out in surgery that this isn’t a regular hospital, whilst Dr. Stegman is trying to get rid of psychic hypochondriac Sally Druse as the earthquakes hit the hospital once more.

Death’s Kingdom: The driver who hit Peter ends up at Kingdom, and he too sees there is something very strange going on. Dr. Elmer Traff tries to coax the beautiful Dr. Lona Massingale into having dinner with him – not his most suave move. Dr. Hook goes behind Stegman’s back and keeps Sally in on observation.

Goodbye Kiss: After seeing Mary, Dr. Hook decides to help Sally. A prisoner ends up in hospital after his suicide pact with his girlfriend goes wrong and Peter has some visitors.

The West Side of Midnight: Another earthquake hits the hospital and the elder Traff’s ex-wife dies in surgery. Elmer starts to have strange dreams, and sadly for him they don’t involve a naked Lona. Paul uses the prisoner to try and scare Sally off her quest by any means possible while Stegman’s car gets defaced and boy is he mad!

Hook’s Kingdom: The prisoner decides to murder with some encouragement. Elmer Traff’s double is found at the hospital whilst he flirts with the object of his affection. Hook shows a lucky lady his home under the Kingdom and there is a gathering of people who want to help Mary.

The Young and The Headless: Dr. Jesse James has a fundraising dinner for investigation into the recent earthquakes, but soon realises that the last thing he should have done is ply the seismologist with alcohol. Elmer does something incredibly stupid in an attempt to scare Lona and Peter wanders the lowest level of the hospital with Mary and Antubis.

Black Noise: Whilst Elmer is believed to have desecrated a corpse the headless body searches for its head. The seismologist becomes Peter’s new room-mate at the hospital and his paranoia about the hospital makes him the perfect accomplice to Sally Druse’s plight. The prisoner has been moved to a room with a self-serving attorney who will do anything to get what he wants.

Heartless: A deadly deal is made so that the attorney can move up the transplant list. Peter’s wife Natalie, who now believes the stories, and Sally uncover unknown information about the mill fire that happened all those years ago and why the hospital was built. Dr. Hook has an interesting bargaining chip to make Elmer help him get rid of Stegman.

Butterfingers: It’s the World Series final and everyone but Stegman is desperate to hear the scores, but when a former player turns up at Kingdom following a suicide attempt the staff starts to fight and Peter and Mary must save him.

The Passion of Reverend Jimmy: After a reverend that helped in the community is murdered and crucified in an alleyway, his body is seen as a healing shrine by many and soon thousands turn up at Kingdom Hospital waiting for his resurrection. There is another earthquake at the hospital, but this time it’s more serious.

Seizure Day: A cop is knocked down by a blinding light and upon arriving at Kingdom has seizures, leading Hook to notice a pattern recently admitted patients. Sally’s son Bobby is sent to snoop in the hospital files to find out more about Mary. Stegman thinks he’s going mad when he sees Antubis helping a patient during surgery – it’s a tough day for some!

Shoulda Stood In Bed: Dr. James continues his very important work making “Operation Morning Air” badges, whilst Hook finally gets the information he needs to publically destroy Stegman. Peter, Sally and the others hold a séance to try and save the future, but will they make it in time?

Finale: In this two hour finale episode on All Souls Day there are just hours until the total destruction of the hospital is due. Everyone in Kingdom is forced to come together now for one final séance, where the truth about the mill fire is revealed and Mary’s reason for appearing to them becomes clear. Will they save Kingdom?

Final Verdict

If you like quirky horror or horror comedies chances are you will like this. Imagine the madness of Channel 4’s Green Wing mixed with the strange horror of such King classics as IT or Rose Red and that will give you a basic idea of what Kingdom Hospital is like. It’s definitely not what could be called mainstream viewing, which probably explains why viewing figures dropped after the first episode aired in the UK. The fact is this miniseries is weird, and it won’t appeal to everyone. But those who do love it tend to completely love it – proven by the fact that die-hard fans lobbied for a second season (Which King reportedly storyboarded). Kingdom Hospital is a quirky horror with a lot of in-jokes, some great musical choices for the episodes (Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At” was inspired) and both deeply likable and unlikable characters. This isn’t just a horror show, but also a mystery that deals with the paranormal and with contentious issues such as the rights and wrongs of suicide and religion. There’s even a few romantic storylines thrown in for good measure ranging from the sweet with Dr. Hook, the strange with Elmer, and the quite frankly gross Dr. Stegman. It’s not an easy going show to relax to but when I want to watch something that makes the brain tick this is high on my list of things to watch. Because there is so much going on in every episode you can watch them several times over and not get bored because you’ve found something else that you hadn’t noticed previously. Even the special effects are enough to warrant a second or third watch of this as they are very well done, and the CGI of Antubis is just beautifully rendered. You should watch this show because Kingdom Hospital is one in a long list of great works that Stephen King has been a part of. He may not have written the original series but he has given this new version his own edge and humour, so is a must watch for fans of King – especially as always he makes a guest appearance somewhere in the show. I do so love to play “Where’s Stephen?” when watching his stuff.

Overall Rating

5 out of 5

A creepy and twisty tale ably told by a great cast, if you’re impatiently waiting for IT and The Dark Tower this will most certainly tide you over.

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