There are usually two sides to every story, but Kingdom of Us shows us eight. Following Paul Shanks’ suicide in 2007, the documentary feature shares an intimate look at the grieving process faced by Shanks’s widow and seven young children as they look back on the day that changed their lives forever.
Cohen explores the complexities of life, death and grief, paying homage to the Shanks’ late father with admiration yet painful reality as the family attempts to come to terms with the final years of his life. A day frozen in time for the Shanks family.
The film is largely comprised of home footage, shot by various members of the family in the years before Paul’s suicide. Often filled with childish glee, these videos show that there were two sides to Paul, and often he was suffering. “Every video we’ve watched he’s been sad and we’re just, like, running around laughing,” Nikita Shanks sobs to her mother and siblings as they re-watch their past. Her family aims to ail her woes, yet she is evidently distraught: “I was nine,” she says. ““At least he would have known we cared.”
Along with home videos, each member of the family recalls their own memories of their father and his passing through interviews six, seven and eight years after his passing. We are given insights into eldest daughter Jamie’s fearful admiration of her father, who called her a “hooker” yet showed her the stars in a way she’ll never be able to see again, whereas youngest daughter Pippa’s limited memory of her father leaves her lost.
Through a mixture of montage, observation and personal footage, Cohen shares the Shanks’ small kingdom with the world, melding together the befores and afters of tragedy in a seamless act of retrospectivity.
Gentle yet haunting, Kingdom of Us is a commanding documentary that captures grief at its rawest, but entirely with respect, and reinforces the message that there is no shame in grieving over trauma. It snapshots a memory frozen in time for the Shanks family, and explores it in a way that honours, yet fully realises the intimate life of Paul Shanks and his family.
Kingdom of Us is available to stream on Netflix.