A disused brewery may not be the most obvious setting for a film festival, but you could hardly pick a more apt location to premier The Legacy, Denmark’s latest drama export. Nestled in scarves, hats and gloves, Scandi devotees at this weekend’s Nordicana festival took their seats in a chilly screening room for an unexpectedly immersive cinema experience.
A modern-day family saga, The Legacy opens with elderly artist Veronika Grønnegaard furiously puffing on a cigarette outside a hospital oncology unit. There is something about this mini rebellion that suggests a woman who has spent her life flouting rules. We know nothing of Veronika’s diagnosis, but judging from the anxiety etched across her handsome features, it isn’t good. Within minutes, she has discharged herself from the ward and is hurtling away in a clapped-out pick up truck – a woman on a mission.
It’s when she chugs up the dusty driveway of a rambling country mansion that we realise that Veronika is, or at least was, an artist of some clout. Inside, empty wine bottles and discarded plaster limbs litter high-ceilinged rooms while apprentices, housekeepers and relatives shuffle about chaotically. The mother of three adult children, our protagonist appears an attentive matriarch, dusting down her paint-splattered overalls to embrace guests and offer freshly brewed tea. When her boisterous grandson complains that it can’t be Christmas without a tree, she frogmarches the family into the grounds before choosing a spruce so tall they must drill a hole in the ceiling to display it. It is pandemonium of the most bohemian variety.
Scratch the surface, however, and there is an undercurrent of discord to this apparently happy gathering. Veronika’s oldest son Frederik is refusing to talk to her, her youngest, Emil, is dismissed with baffling brevity when he calls from Thailand and statuesque daughter Gro, (my new Danish crush now that Borgen’s glistening Birgitte Nyborg has left our screens) is ready to reveal some painful home truths.
To say any more would risk revealing the episode’s carefully worked plot, which, as we have grown accustomed to with Scandi drama, twists, turns and unsettles when you least expect it. As its title suggests, this is a series about heritage, the tightly woven threads that bind generations of the same family and the startling fragility of even the most enduring relationships.
The Legacy is already a huge ratings success in its native Denmark. Will it replicate this reception in Britain when it airs on Sky Arts this autumn? Will it grip those of us mourning the end of Borgen and the loss of The Bridge? I think it might. However, without the jeopardy of serial killings or the glamorous intensity of parliament life, the characters must work hard to make us care about their dysfunctional family set-up.
Were this a British, or indeed an American series, I may have left the screening sceptical. However, bearing in mind that Denmark has become something of a production line for compelling, psychological drama, there is promise in The Legacy. And if all else fails, there will always be the snowy landscapes to ogle and the chunky knitwear to covet.