Sidse Babett Knudsen, as PM Birgitte Nyborg
Ah, politics. The fakeness, lies and weasel-words. The facade of assumed importance. The grand parade of lifeless commodities. During the weeks the political conventions are broadcast I feel as if quality TV, normally one of my maintenance drugs, is only available from secret labs run by chemistry students.
Just in case you also want to avoid the convention broadcasts, here’s a hidey-hole I discovered. There’s an award-winning series from Danish TV about a female Prime Minister and politicians who have to choose between family life and serving a nation. It’s called Borgen, and it’s one of the best political drama series ever made. Superbly written and performed, it’s a less preachy, more plot-heavy, European version of The West Wing.
The word “Borgen” (The Castle) is the nickname for Christiansborg Palace, where Denmark’s three branches of government are housed. In Denmark, they have multiple political parties. Each group that assumes power must create a coalition out of more than two. Governing is not possible without compromise! It’s so refreshing compared to our gridlocked view of things.
The series begins two days before an election. The leading candidate reneges on a deal with his coalition partner about immigration policy. His former partner then backs the incumbent. However, a personal scandal taints the incumbent. All the candidates appear on a televised Election Eve debate, where the woman heading the Moderates comes off better than the men who had previously topped the polls. In an election upset favoring the #3 party, Birgitte Nyborg becomes the first female Prime Minister of Denmark.
Nyborg is married to a college lecturer, and they have two young children. A sage mentor in her cabinet advises her, as does an edgy young spin-doctor. Kasper Juul, the spin-doctor, is the former lover of TV reporter Katrine Fonsmark. Katrine provides balance against and contrast with Birgitte’s story, as an equally strong female character working outside the government.
Katrine also has a sage mentor, the head producer at TV1. It’s an absorbing chess game, watching each of these characters behave in response to the issues of the day. Characters drink and have health problems, and families suffer. There’s also hope. Time after time the PM finds the most decent, ethical path out of domestic and international crises.
Each episode is full of alternate history revolving around important topics like misuse of government funds, the rendition of war prisoners, high seas piracy, and different kinds of personal problems, including a bleak backstory of molestation that haunts one character. There’s comic relief as well, including old bumblers and the sharp repartee between the most intelligent characters. It’s all done so well, I hardly notice having to read the English subtitles. The show has become an international hit, available both in dubbed and captioned versions.
In the U.S. the series is shown on Link TV, a channel featuring a variety of international programming. But you can see the entire series online too, at least for a few weeks: http://www.linktv.org/borgen