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


Filed under Acting, Television

10 responses to “UNconventional

  1. Borgen was on UK tv earlier this year. I can highly recommed it. Emma

    • Thanks for your recommendation, Emma. The show is better known in the UK than here, as it was on BBC4 and won BAFTAs. (That’s the Brit equivalent to Emmys, for my U.S. readers.) The casting of Sidse Knudsen as the PM was considered risky in Denmark, where she’s mostly known for comedies.

  2. In this case, the imitation of life is much better than the real thing. I was so engaged during the last election. This time? Not at all. Oh, I’ll still vote. But I’d much rather watch shows about politics than watch the conventions.

    • In a well-made drama, somebody actually wins in the end. I feel like in elections, everyone loses. Some lose more and some less. Admittedly, I’m a curmudgeon about politics in general. I’ll vote too, but I dislike voting “against”, and I have to do it more often than being able to vote “for”. Hope you are having a nice holiday!

  3. Link TV always has some really interesting stuff. I enjoy Borgen, but the other show they broadcast I enjoy is the Israeli sitcom Arab Labor.

    • I’ve just begun watching that. I love the way they are able to contrast not only the two cultures, but also the older / younger generations. In both these shows, characters being multi-lingual is the norm. That’s so striking to me. Being multi-lingual is unusual here. Thanks for stopping in, AW.

  4. Borgen was on here earlier in the years too and I was riveted… of course the Danish political party system is very similar to our own so we had no problem to following the myriad of small party threads that were woven together…
    btw if you like Borgen and don’t mind subtitles then I’d recommend you also try “the Bridge”which is a Danish/Swedish collaborative series,….
    “the Killing” is another brilliant series as is the “Wallender”series (but go for the Swedish version not the UK one of the same name)
    “Engrenages” is a gritty French crime show with zero airbrushing (more gruesome too) which I like because the characters are shown warts and all and again has a multi-level plot line. I also watch that one to improve my French as I try not to read the subtitles.
    (btw I did a double take because the voice-over of the top clip was in Dutch and since understood what was being said I looked at the subtitles and thought for a nanosecond that I understood Danish …which sadly of course I don’t LOL)
    oooh… and I looove Borgen’s character of Kasper… he’s not only good looking, intelligent, fast thinking, but has his own very complex past… he gets more and more interesting as the series unfolds.

    • I thought it would be interesting to post a dubbed clip for comparison. I watch Borgen in Danish with English subtitles. I agree, Kasper is fascinating. Thanks for all the recommendations of other programs. I’m always looking to see more good shows.

  5. Tom of Ireland

    Sidse Babett Knudsen was excellent in “After the Wedding” which was oscar nominated for best foreign film a couple of years ago. She is riveting.

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