Borgen – Danish TV Drama

Borgen which has just finished its run on TV is the latest in a line of drama series from Denmark.   Borgen is the name of the building – the Castle – which houses the Danish Parliament.  The 10 part series covered the first year in power of newly elected Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg.   Which of course gives scope for plenty of intrigue, political infighting, scandals, cover-ups etc.  In other words an everyday tale of politics in a modern democratic country.  To add to the excitement the Prime Minister is a woman – Denmark’s first ever woman Prime Minister.  In passing it is worth mentioning that a year after the series was first shown, Denmark did indeed elect its first woman Prime Minister – Helle Thorning-Schmidt.  An interesting example of how often life follows art.

The series itself was excellent.  Each episode covered a different topic or set of problems for the government.  Starting with inter party negotiations to form a government – Denmark has a fully PR voting system, so all governments are coalitions of one kind or another.  Other problems arose around the budget, civil liberties and terrorism, relations with the USA, economic deals with oil rich countries etc.  One never knew just how these problems would be resolved.

Many people find politic boring, but this series managed to attract and keep a very large audience in part because it focussed mostly on the personalities and the personal relationships of those involved.  There was also a strong alternative focus for the action in the shape of a TV news programme which was constantly seeking exclusive insights into political developments.  The TV team of course had their own infighting and personality conflicts to deal with.  Not to mention contacts of both a professional and personal nature between reporters and government spin doctors.

What held the series together most of all though was the personal stories of the main characters.  Birgitte Nyborg as Prime Minister found that her new, hectic and over demanding role played havoc with her family life and in particular her relationship with her husband.  This was a slow burning fuse which reached a climax by the end.  The other two main characters were Katrine Fønsmark as the very attractive and ambitious TV presenter, and Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister’s spin doctor.  Each had their own personal backstory and to cap it all, they had previously been lovers.  The interacting and overlapping stories of these three characters helped to give the series a firm structure and as each character was complex and interesting, to keep us involved.

The cast was uniformly excellent.  The three main leads in particular –  Sidse Babett Knudsen as the Prime Minister, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Katrine and Johan Philip Asbæk as Kasper.  Special mention should also go to Mikael Birkkjær as the Prime Minister’s husband Philip and Søren Malling as Torben Friis, the TV producer who tries to reign in Katrine.  If you haven’t seen the series, then try to catch any repeats or go out and by the DVD.  It will be well worth the money.

Borgen was shown on BBC4 which over the past year has brought us two other Danish TV drama series on our screens – The Killing series 1 and 2.  Not a country we have normally associated with high quality TV.  Just shows how isolated our TV masters have been.  It is great news that BBC4 at least is prepared to branch out and seek good quality drama from outwith the usual suspects ie the USA.  We have now seen some very good programmes from France, Italy, Sweden and now Denmark.  All the others have been crime series, but Borgen has shown that political drama can also be successful over here.  The second series of Borgen has been secured by BBC4.  Here’s hoping they secure more drama series from other countries around the world


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