As yet another Scandinavian drama hits our television screens Jennie Pritchard asks why they just always seem to get it right?
Borgen has to have one of the most boring-sounding plot-lines ever thought up. Trying to explain it to someone goes a bit like this: “Oh it’s this brilliant new drama on BBC4 about the leader of the Moderates forming a coalition, and about the way the government works when agreeing on policy. It’s like The Thick of It, but not sweary… or funny… Oh and it’s in Danish.” It is invariably met with a listless or concerned response.
So thank goodness for the Scandinavian-obsessed, Forbrydelsen-addicted, Wallander-whores that make up most of the BBC4 spectatorship, whose appetite for gloomy weather, chain-smoking, Danish pastries, and people named ‘Troels’ will never be satisfied. It is because of them that Borgen has been brought to us.
One of the things that made The Killing so wonderfully original was the political angle of the show; the reflection of how each crime echoed through the political structures of Denmark. Borgen does this but without the murders. It takes the tension and the drama of the political intrigue and axes the sometimes-uncomfortable jolt between storylines.
At the centre of the action is the charismatic leader of the Moderates Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) who unexpectedly finds herself Prime Minister of Denmark. Borgen explores the tumultuous relationship between the government and the media; the tightrope of social consciousness versus political advancement. It makes you feel a bit sorry for Nick Clegg – but not that sorry.
Borgen also shines a light on the gendered tensions surrounding women in the public eye, with a subtlety that only serves to make the message doubly effective. It is the immediate assumption that journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), despite her skills, has ‘slept her way to the top’ when she is appointed news anchor, the constant comments about her weight and appearance she must deal with (despite being surrounded by fat and ugly male counterparts) that really drums the point home. Borgen gives us admirable female leads struggling to survive in a male world of corruption, and often being overcome by it.
If you start watching Borgen, you have to be in it for the long haul. Dippy viewing, missing an episode here and there, just doesn’t work with the premise of the show. It is compulsive, complicated viewing, but the pay-off is immense. There have been three series of the show already aired in Denmark, and the second series is just finishing its run over here.
You can’t help but think that, what with the incredible shows being exported from Sweden and Denmark, it is only the subtitles ‒ a massive turn-off for lazy viewers ‒ which is saving the skin of ailing British shows such as Silent Witness. Scandinavia is giving us complex characters, deep, gripping storylines and filmic originality: when are the majority of UK dramas going to catch up? Borgen is available on catch-up.
Borgen is available on catch-up.