The Legacy is a Danish drama from DR Fiktion, but quite a different beast to stable-mates The Killing and Borgen. Series 1 was described by The Guardian as “utterly addictive” and I’m pleased to report that while the characters have grown and changed, this remains true.
Instead of dark political intrigue or dark and bloody murders in grey dockyards The Legacy offers up an enormous rambling farm-house in rural Denmark and an off-kilter family drama. This series spins out from the death of artist and domineering matriarch Veronika Gronnegaard and the after effects on her children. The Legacy in Danish is Arvingerne which literally translates as “heirs”. As these kids squabble over Veronika’s house, her reputation and her art we can see why Sky Arts picked it up rather than Sky Atlantic, the more traditional home for drama.
In series 1 we were rooting for Signe, Veronika’s fourth child adopted and brought up by normal down-to-earth people. She’s the surprise beneficiary of Veronika’s deathbed will and we’re willing her to get her share of the inheritance from her argumentative, entitled and just plain rude step-siblings. Lovely Signe learns her secret family history and is excited, but not about the money. She’s lonely and wants to be their sister. But this simple story of trying to be a blended family quickly gets messed up. Money changes people. Signe started believing her own hype.
Clearly it’s not healthy to be around people like older sister Gro – obsessed by her successful career as a curator to the point of forging her late mother’s work, bitter brother Frederik – seething with anger at the world, obsessed with getting hold of the sprawling family home, and dealing with significant marital problems, and youngster Emil – a useless wastrel, up until recently in a Thai prison on drug charges, now a free man having an affair with Solveig who happens to be his brother’s wife. If this doesn’t make an ounce of sense on first reading don’t worry about it. This is quite possibly tv’s most dysfunctional family. Eastenders has nothing on these guys.
But stick with it. The Legacy is a high quality drama where you really feel you get to know each character – they’re all flawed, all desperately human. We develop an intimate understanding because these characters feel quite real, to the point of dropping them into conversation with people who aren’t even watching the show.
Series 3 opens three years after the events of Series 2. Frederick and Solveig are divorced. Baby Melody is with the family, not with her mother (I can’t even go into her parentage, she’s a sort of step-sister/niece… it’s just too difficult). She’s being admirably cared for by doting Emil. Signe is up to her wrists in farming, delivering baby piglets while her forgettable floppy-haired other half Aksel (is he the farming apprentice from Series 2?) worries about how they can’t have children. Signe is a do-er so doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself – she’s out working out how to raise organic pork with her slightly batty mentor Karin who lectures her on the achievements of childless women.
Speaking of The Legacy‘s children, unsurprisingly, given what her family put her through, Solveig and Frederick’s daughter Hannah is now an artist, carrying on her grandmother’s reputation with her right-on collective of annoying teenage wunderkinds. She’s supported by Gro, of course. Gro seems to enjoy being one step removed from the chaos that surrounds artists – she’s never happier than managing her fabulous career off the back of the art made around her.
Hearteningly in the opening episodes these messed up people are finding a purpose and getting along. There’s a rare glimpse of harmony and a chance for the characters to take a breath. So enter stage right Frederick, rocking up uninvited to his daughter’s exhibition opening. He’s bound to screw up all this good feeling as the family, who were busy climbing the ladders, trip over the snakes and go back to square one. Poor Emil the peacemaker, with Gro dishing out orders to him, Frederick trying desperately to prove he’s not fucked up, and the rest of the characters despairing of them all.
Who manages to get chavs and a dog fight at an art exhibition? Of course, it’s all part of Hannah’s edgy act – a planned brawl, drama for the sake of art whereas The Legacy siblings usually provide it for free. The scene in the gallery is heavy with menace; dramatic lighting, a sense of panic and confusion, and Hannah saying goodbye to everyone, but blanking her poor Dad. Will she be ok up in Greenland with her sketchy civil disobedience team and slightly daft boyfriend Malik? No watercolours of haywains for these guys – they’re very adventurous artists, not afraid to get frostbite or even arrested for their art. We see again the uncomfortable relationship between business and art, and the promises that Gro has to make to get financial backing. Gro is essential in providing support to these kids but is frozen out of their dangerous plans. She’s only pretending to be in control for appearance’s sake. Nothing good will come of this.
The Legacy balances out the dark moments with warm patches of light. We see Emil having much more success with the under-fours than the teenage art collective. He’s a fantastic party planner stepping effortlessly into his hippie father’s shoes and using the house and grounds in a way Thomas would have thoroughly approved of. Who has trolls, foxes, and elaborate treasure hunts at a birthday the tiny child probably won’t even remember? That’s better than jelly and ice cream, and pin the tail on the donkey. Emil is also popular with the hot young Mums – good for him. He deserves a bit of warmth and stability for a change.
It’s tricky to know who to root for and who to dislike the most because these characters are so well drawn. There’s excellent acting from the whole cast especially Trine Dyrholm aka the Dutch Helen Mirren as Gro, and Carsten Bjørnlund as Frederick, who is always wound so tense and just about to flip his lid. I also love his confused and long-suffering wife Solveig – Lene Maria Christensen seems to turn up in a lot of Danish tv I like, looking sweet and motherly with a steely strength deep inside.
It looks like series 3 will be our last visit to House Grønnegaard and our last opportunity to figure out the deep mystery at the heart of The Legacy. Does Frederick really listen to Rammstein? His family home had an enormous poster of the German industrial metal band displayed prominently in the dining room. If he loves metal how can he possibly be so angry all the time? Maybe he needs mindfulness and Smooth Radio instead of a moshpit to release the tensions.
The Legacy is just finishing on Sky Arts and episodes are available on their catch-up services if you want to try before you buy.
THE LEGACY SEASON 3 is released on DVD & BLU-RAY Box Set on Monday 8th May by Nordic Noir & Beyond.
And better still – THE LEGACY SEASON 1-3 is released on DVD & BLU-RAY Box Set on Monday 8th May by Nordic Noir & Beyond.