With The Legacy being such a huge hit across Europe, producers of the Danish drama are working on the third season, while Euro TV fans in the UK look forward to seeing the second later this year on Sky Arts and those in the US wait for the first to arrive. [UPDATED]
Fans of Danish drama have come to expect compelling, intriguing, engrossing programs, as shows such as Borgen, The Eagle, and The Killing (all produced by Denmark’s DR) have set quite a high bar. Now add the 2014 TV Prisen award winner for Best TV Drama, The Legacy (Arvingerne, or “Heirs”), to that list.
This intense, character-driven family saga, written and created by award-winning Danish screenwriter Maya Ilsøe, displays in full the range of human follies and foibles in a story that revolves around four adult siblings and their disputed inheritance. (Spoilers follow.)
The renowned and controversial artist, Veronika Grønnegaard (Kirsten Olesen, Daisy Diamond), has lived a bohemian life since the Swinging ’60s, 40 or so years of it at the namesake estate of her long-dead husband, Carl, father of her sons Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund, Rita) and Emil (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, A Royal Affair). Before Carl was avant-garde musician, Thomas Konrad (Jesper Christensen, Quantum of Solace), father to daughter Gro (Trine Dyrholm, Someone You Love) and perpetual Grønnegaard guest.
Veronika’s eccentric ways have impacted her children in various ways. The ever-devoted Gro became a successful art gallery manager while also serving as her mum’s doormat of a “little secretary.” Single, childless, and lonely, she has the married-and-living-in-Germany art world consultant, Robert Eliassen (Trond Espen Seim, Varg Veum), as her lover.
Frederik, whose decades-long resentment toward Veronika has meant he won’t step foot in the Grønnegaard house, took a different path. He became a high-powered attorney, wed engineer Solveig (Lene Maria Christensen, Dicte), and had two children. As for his little brother, Veronika’s free-spirited-ness manifested in Emil’s being an entrepreneur, one who took off to Thailand and only calls home when he needs money.
In the series opener, it’s clear from Veronika’s demeanor that the news she just received at the hospitable’s oncology ward isn’t yuletide greetings. The 500 kroner worth of flowers she orders from florist assistant, Signe Larsen (Marie Bach Hansen, Borgen), could be fragrant solace, but she also has another reason for wanting Signe to deliver the bouquets.
Back home at the rundown Grønnegaard manor house-cum-art studio, it’s chaos as usual. Art is made and dismantled, a drawing is sketched, a tree is cut down, and the ceiling is cut open. And the family merry-making for the holidays ends in a row between Veronika and Gro, one in which a single statement lets us begin putting two and two together.
The plot thickens when Signe shows Veronika’s drawing of her to her professional handball-player boyfriend, Andreas Baggesen (Kenneth Christensen), and her parents, coach John (Jens Jørn Spottag, The Hour of the Lynx) and his team-helper wife, Lise (Anette Katzmann, Flies on the Wall), the latter of whom makes a quick exit afterward.
Things come to a head later the same evening. Veronika, feeling pangs of both illness and guilt, pens a letter bequeathing the Grønnegaard estate to Signe. Before she dies, she reveals to Signe what nearly everyone but the grown-up “Sunshine” has known all along: Veronika is Signe’s biological mother.
This is not the only bombshell that gets dropped.
There is also the matter of Veronika having donated the estate to a foundation that will run the Grønnegaard museum. Frederik and Emil are gobsmacked and outraged by this news, as the inheritance they had counted on is no longer theirs. Muddling things further is Veronika’s guilt-appeasing gift of the estate to Signe, which none of the living Grønnegaards know about until Signe clues them in.
That’s when all helvede breaks loose, things get ugly and nasty, and it’s three against one in the battle over what may or may not be anyone’s inheritance.
As the series progresses over Season 1’s ten episodes, the Grønnegaard and Larsen families and intimates must deal with the fallout of Veronika’s actions as well as their own greed, desperation, insecurities, grudges, and betrayals, as more secrets spill out and relationships are tested to their limits.
Quite simply, The Legacy is brilliant. Every thread in the storyline is tightly woven with the others, such that no single detail is amiss. The action is finely-paced, and the unfolding of characters’ backstories and situations is by turns subtle and overt, gradual and lickety-split. Never is there a dull moment.
Dyrholm is outstanding as the steely, scheming Gro, as is Bjørnlund as the bitter and driven Frederik. With a flinty-eyed glare here and a gritted-teeth scowl there, each embodies their character so fully that one forgets they are actors. She won the Best Actress award and he for Best Actor at this year’s prestigious Robert Festival.
Kudos also go to Best Supporting Actor Følsgaard and Best Supporting Actress Lene Maria Christensen. His Emil, a reckless partyer, is the counterpoint to the sobriety of Frederik and Gro, and her Solveig, in a way symbolic of viewers, is a member of but also an outsider to the Grønnegaard clan. And Best Supporting Actor nominee Jesper Christensen (no relation to Lene Maria) is superb as the ponytailed, pot-smoking hippy, Thomas, who offers viewers occasional respite from the intensity of the dramas that play out on screen.
The first season, streaming at Amazon Instant Video in the UK, ends with a cliffhanger, so check back for more juicy tidbits after Sky Arts begins premiering the second season’s seven episodes later in 2015. DR announced last month that a third season is coming, so stay tuned for news about it as well as HBO’s remake of the series.