First Look: ‘The Knick’ Takes an Authentic Approach Toward Turn-of-the-Century Life

Posted on: August 4th, 2014 at 10:00 am by

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On set of The Knick, November 2013

Cinemax granted us access to a pre-screening of The Knick which premieres Friday, August 8 at 10pm. The press kit containing the screener came complete with our very own collector’s medicine box.

Welcome to the circus, it says.

First, a quick description from The Knick’s website:

Set in downtown New York in 1900, ‘The Knick’ is a new Cinemax drama series from Academy Award and Emmy-winning director Steven Soderbergh. It is centered on the Knickerbocker Hospital and the groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff who work there, pushing the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics. Soderbergh directs all 10 episodes of the series’ first season.

Academy Award and Emmy nominee Clive Owen stars as Doctor John Thackery, a brilliant surgeon pioneering new methods in the field, despite his secret addiction to cocaine.

Without revealing too much of the plotline, here are some choice snippets that drew us right into the drama.

The first shot is Johnny (Clive Owen) in an Asian brothel/opium den with his white shoes crossed. A nude Asian prostitute wakes him at “seven and a half.” His addiction to shooting up cocaine is revealed almost immediately. Walking out of Chinatown, Johnny tells his carriage driver take him to the Knick. He gives him directions and just hearing “Mott, the Bowery, Houston,” gave us goosebumps. Oh, this is gonna be good.

As he walks into the Knickerbocker Hospital the screen turns stark black and with white lettering simply stating ‘THE KNICK.’

The wardrobe, the scenery, and the dialect – all around well done and extremely well-researched. One need only remember the weeks of filming at Orchard and Broome last fall to understand the authenticity apparent in this show. Trolley tracks, horses (dead and alive), carriages, tenement life, dirt streets. Even the inside of the tenements are immaculately portrayed. Tubercular windows, transoms, bland, but bright wallpaper crowded with children and adults and tuberculosis. The buildings they film around are (thank goodness) still standing.

We see them in 1900 without that coveted time machine. What will apparently be a symbol throughout the show is the presence of white – white shoes, white sheets, white gowns – perhaps the the pure intent before the nightmarish stains of excessive blood.

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What you may not know is the Knickerbocker was actually a real hospital.

The M. Moran Weston seniors’ residence on Convent Avenue at 131st Street occupies the old Knickerbocker Hospital building, which began in 1862 as the Manhattan Dispensary, a temporary Civil War tent facility for returning Union Army invalids. In 1885 the New York Times praised its rebirth as the fully equipped Manhattan Hospital, “the only general hospital north of Ninety-ninth street.” In 1895 it became the J. Hood Wright Memorial Hospital, then Knickerbocker Hospital in 1913. The hospital assumed the city’s largest ambulance district for many decades and was a forerunner in treatments for polio, gynecology and alcoholism. (United Hospital Fund.)

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The electronic infused music throughout the episode is just eerie enough to remind you that this is a modern attempt at a historical drama.

It works.

The show also succeeds at dropping you off smack in the harrowing world that is the dawn of surgical medicine in America. It is gory, gruesome, and effective. And, it has already been renewed for a second season!

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Courtesy of Cooper Medical College

One thing is for sure after watching The Knick – you will be grateful that surgery, in particular, is not what it used to be.

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