It has been almost a year since I commented on the Danish TV sensation Forbrydelsen, broadcast to great acclaim in the UK as The Killing. Ever since the dysfunctional Sara Lund wowed us with her chunky jumpers and unorthodox approach to police work, British audiences have been keen for more subtitled delights from across the North Sea. Adaptations of bestselling Swedish crime novels are all very well, but Brits are captivated with the passion and phlegm of the Danes.
Cue Borgen, a political thriller set in Copenhagen’s corridors of power, with Birgitte Nyborg as Denmark’s first woman prime minister, Kasper Juul, Nyborg’s political minder and spin doctor with a dark hinterland, and Katrine Fønsmark, an up and coming television news anchor not long out of pigtails. Borgen, which ended on Saturday, is a splendidly produced pot-boiler, and I do not begrudge its popular reception, but my overall impression is of a story ridden with clichés and shallow characters. It is little more than re-writing of the Elizabethan saga for the modern age.
The forty-something but still bushy-tailed and idealistic Nyborg comes to power following a protracted coalition negotiation which results in a fragile but typically Danish government, with sage advice provided a Lord Burleigh figure in the form of Nyborg’s political mentor Bent Sejro. The PM’s spin doctor Kasper Juul is a mysterious figure who displays a profound political nous that belies his tender years, along with a disturbing degree of emotional fragility, the latter being the result of a traumatic childhood. Juul is the new Francis Walsingham.
The plot of Borgen centres on the dawning realisation of Nyborg that she is surrounded by a shower of shits, and is herself a deeply flawed character. It all culminates in the political sacrifice of her old friend Sejro, who is forced to resign his cabinet position, and condemned to a retirement of hydrangea tending and mistress servicing.
Nyborg is blooded by the experience of her first parliamentary term, and learns to bear her grave responsibilities as a statesperson. The PM’s marriage is wrecked, and her children left depressed and incontinent. But the plucky one soldiers on. The result is a worldly-wise ruler who divorces her drip of a husband, and instead marries her country. The only thing missing was the white face makeup, though I must say that in the end she did look a bit pale.