The show plays around the 1900s in New York City and centres around a hospital called the Knickerbocker. Clive Owen stars in the main role of the ill-tempered surgeon Dr. John Thackery, who revolutionises surgery on the forefront of science.
The series is brilliantly filmed, visually stunning and is tied in with highly unusual music. One cannot help but feeling emotionally exposed and vulnerable at times when watching. It touches on racial issues, racism and sexism of the era, which seem uncannily contemporary at times, and deals with drug abuse and class dived. Its’ tone is dark and moody and does not leave much room for romance and comfort. Certainly not a light watch.
All hospitals of the time have moved uptown only the Knickerbocker has stayed behind caring for the poor, struggling to keep the doors open in tough financial times while simultaneously, trying to compete at the scientific front. The Knicks’ leading surgeon Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) is committed to the art of surgical science but is also tragically entangled in a dark web of drug addiction, which forces the storyline to erupt as the city’s opium and cocaine supplies run dry. (During those times cocaine was freely available in pharmacies, prescription free and widely used in medical procedures.)
Although there is to say that the series could have done more with the character of Dr. Thackery who basically is a 1900’s version of Dr. House, Clive Owen does play his character brilliantly. Especially as the season comes to conclusion his talent becomes intensely apparent.
Bono’s daughter (Eve Hewson) gives an excellent performance in the role of nurse Lucy Elkins, Dr. Thackery’s dewy eyed love interest. Her presence adds substance to the show and the relationship with the doctor is subtle and seems precious in a world where tenderness is far and few between.
The Knick is a series that does not ease you into things. You need a good stomach to endure all the blood, racism and sexism that are constantly on display. But this in combination with the astounding artistic visual flavour makes it very unique and worth a watch.
What also makes a compelling argument for giving the Knick a try is its focus on two men’s relationship: Owen’s Dr. Thackery, and the African-American Andre Holland’s Dr. Algernon Edward. The latter comes to the Knick at the behest of Cornelia Robertson played by Juliet Rylance, the daughter of a progressive shipping magnate. The Robertson’s want Edwards to succeed and as the main donors of the hospital funds have the last word. This creates tension in the Knick and as the story unfolds and social unrests in New York take their toll.
The director, Steven Soderbergh who is responsible for movies such as “Oceans 11” and “Traffic” has once famously announced that he would retire after the end of shooting in 2012 of his hitherto last film “Behind the Candelabra” but later down played the comments and said that a sabbatical from filming would be more realist. His words would ring true as he reemerged with the Knick on the creative scene. He takes fantastic close up shots, let’s his actors speak volumes without words, plays with light and shade and has created an art work which no doubt is worth contemplating. However, it is dark and a bit depressing, it is thought provoking and rather gory at times.
Nevertheless, it has been already renews for a second season and it remains to be seen if all that passion will translate to the audience.
The Sheep will stay tuned.