On World Mental Health Day our very own photographer Manpreet Singh wrote a personal piece on our website where he articulates what it is like living with depression. When I read it, I paused a few times and wondered why in this world today do we not understand that mental health is one of our biggest killers. Why do we not teach our children the impact and importance of mental health, and why do we not support those that are directly impacted by it, whether it be the sufferer, friend, family or colleague? If there was ever a fitting documentary that highlights the importance of ensuring there is enough support in place for those affected, then the Netflix Original Kingdom of Us is that supporting piece.
Director Lucy Cohen has crafted a feature-length documentary that showcases a family of eight journeying through their childhood memories and emotional moments before and after their father committed suicide. It is a devastating human tragedy. It comes to a point in Kingdom of Us where you realise that although it is heavy and deeply downcast, there is something poignantly beautiful about it in its entirety. I believe it is because there is one mother and seven children involved; eight people all at different stages and phases in their lives dealing with the death of their father in regretful and difficult circumstances. Due to the differences in age, you witness how each deals with it on their own, but also how they battled it together.
The strategy implemented for this documentary is a work of craftsmanship. It uses home videos, photos, tapes and interviews at various stages of their lives that show the impact it has had. It proves that with grievance there can be some form of closure, whether that be in a year or many years time. The use of materials also proves that support is necessary for situations like that the Shanks family had to suffer through. It is okay to not be okay.
What is uniquely fascinating about Kingdom of Us is that by coincidence or not, it evidences different mental health issues with some of the children, and I believe it slightly makes the case that it is all interlinked to the suffering caused by their father’s suicide. There are spectres of autism and eating disorders that live with some of them, and you cannot help but feel the frustration that the mother and siblings must have gone through to deal with the range of issues that come with this isolated situation. The director used the material at hand to choose certain moments of revelation carefully. There is an air of respect in this work.
Whilst Kingdom of Us does not throw statistics and science at your feet, the living proof is the family. Sometimes that is all you need – the people. There is a certain rawness between each segment that makes you feel like you understand, and with that comes sympathy. Despite its personal invasion, this is perhaps one of the most respectful documentaries I have seen. Each interview or insight into a family meal is as captivating as each other. There is a story told without the need of writing it for you on the screen.
Regardless if you are very knowledgeable in this field or if you know very little at all, there is no denying that Kingdom of Us will manage to touch your heart and educate you by just showing you a living example of how mental health can affect a family. In this case a family tragedy.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this review, please call the Samaritans on (free) 116123 or 020 7734 2800.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too, so check out our podcast.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.