More Danish delights!

Sidse Babett Knudsen, in her first TV series, plays coalition Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg.

This is just to add to a chorus of praise for Borgen (Denmark 2010), the BBC4 political-thriller series set within Danish coalition politics. It’s produced by the same company that did The Killing 1 and 2, though the virtuoso combination of both a focused (one killing) and a spiralling set of plot lines over 20 episodes is not repeated here. ‘Borgen’ (‘castle’) is the Danish equivalent of Westminster in the UK – the general term for the centre of government. See the UK trailer on BBC website.

There’s lots of plot buzz about it, especially in blogs (see The Guardian’s) and they are understandably focused on the convincingness of plot lines, which caused controversy for The Killing 1 and 2. What Borgen does well is to mix a ‘glossy’ often thriller-ish narrative form and look with what feels like a properly complicated account of coalition politics involving a woman Prime Minister.

Also involved are journalism, ‘spin’, and familiar gendered issues around the work involved in bringing up a family, work outside the family, and sexism for many modern working women. It has been casually brilliant in its restrained construction of sexual relationships and their aftermath, or the trauma of abortion for the woman who has to take the decision. And its treatment of sexism at the highest levels of negotiation, which a woman in such a post would enter, is likewise restrained: the muttered ‘Mummy’ behind her back as she leaves a discussion with military top brass, for example.

Casting for a kind of glamour in its leads, it plays questions of appearance, for both men but especially women, superbly well. See discussion of Laura Mulvey and others in Representations chapter of MSB5. In particular it keeps complicating our sense of how scenes and imagery of women will go. I loved the high angle shots of a de-glamourised Katrine, tousled rather than infantilised-by-tousle, getting out of bed to answer the (dangerous) call at her door. The jokes, as well as the difficulties, in the sex life of a married, powerful woman with children are done with a light touch. Maybe decades of experience of Scandinavian social-democrat education and equality debates is sedimented here? And the treatment of small-nation dependency, with the hard political questions that raises, as well as the brute force of certain kinds of US power—all this has wide resonance and was superbly constructed in episode 4.

Enough! Glad to hear in this Independent article that a 2nd series has just been shown in Denmark, and a third is due. And a US version, involving the BBC, and aimed to be a kind of successor to The West Wing, is in development.

See also for an account of ‘the thriller factory’ within Danish public service broadcasting, from which such series emerge. The rules: ‘Commissioners insist on original drama dealing with issues in contemporary society: no remakes, no adaptations.’ I’ve also heard the cold winter evenings in Denmark make the 8pm slot popular.

And finally, see for some real world British connections to the first Danish woman Prime Minister—said to have enjoyed the series, broadcast a year before her election victory.

One response to “More Danish delights!

  1. Some extended thoughts on Borgen as a TV serial here.

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