The QT

Friday 14 June 2024

Boxing Clever – Borgen

Every week, Michael Telfer – aka Mike TV – recommends a box set to crack open. This week’s he’s going all political, but with a scandi twist.
Borgen on Netflix

With a general election looming many people will look to box sets for an escape from the constant baby hoisting, grandstanding, finger pointing and lofty promises.

Others will be loving every second, and won’t want the daily political intrigue to end with the ten o’clock news.

For those in the second camp, I can heartily recommend the Danish political drama Borgen.

A happy and optimistic Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) with her family on election night

Borgen tells the story of how Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) goes from being a minor, left of centre politician and leader of the Moderate party to becoming the first female prime minister of Denmark, following a closely fought general election which results in a hung parliament.

Imagine if you will a scenario in our coming election whereby Sir Keir Starmer is struck by some hitherto unseen scandal which rocks the Labour vote and leads to a nail-bitingly close election, and only Sir Ed Davey is able to pull together enough cross-party support to create a government.

Birgitte quickly finds that holding together her government of many colours while also being a wife and mother to two children is a tall order. Doing so without sacrificing her values, beliefs and scruples is nigh on impossible.

Sidse Babett Knudsen is incredible as the charismatic, virtuous and well meaning Birgitte. Over the first two seasons while she is in power we see her professional and personal lives come under incredible pressure and scrutiny.

Nyborg with her mentor Bent Sejro (Lars Knutzon) and spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek)

Her relationship with her mentor and closest ally Bent Sejro (Lars Knutzon) is a core part of the story, and a useful yardstick for how far Nyborg drifts from her party’s key values over the course of her premiership.

Nyborg’s spin doctor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbaek) is another key character who also wrestles with ethical decisions of his own, although it has to be said these are usually at the murkier end of the moral compass from Nyborg.

His on-off relationship with young news anchor Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) places him in all kinds of quandries, especially when dark memories from his past surface in season two.

Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk) and Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen)

The first three seasons ran from 2010 to 2013 and chart Nyborg’s rise to power, her time in office and then her return to politics following a brief hiatus as a public speaker and businesswoman.

A fourth season (titled Borgen – Power & Glory) was produced by Netflix in 2022 and followed the older and wiser Nyborg, now foreign minister, as she tries to navigate her way through an international crisis that sees China, Russia and the US fight for control of new oil fields discovered in the Danish territory of Greenland.

Borgen is a fantastically well scripted and produced show which vividly portrays the human side of politics. Birgitte is a thoroughly three-dimensional character who takes her professional and private failures and her shortcomings increasingly hard during her time in power.

The political stereotypes that appear in Nyborg’s cabinet are as well crafted and realised as she is, and it is easy to find equivalents in the current Westminster line up. The show also had an uncanny knack for predicting events in Dutch and British politics, but I certainly won’t spoil any of those surprises here.

What next?

If you enjoyed Borgen you should try out the following box sets:

The Killing (available to buy on Amazon Prime or Apple TV)

The Killing is probably the show that kicked off the scandi TV craze and opened our eyes to the amount of brilliant television being made in countries other than Britain and the US.

The first (and best) season follows Inspector Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) as she tries to unravel the brutal killing of a young woman. Along the way there are countless plot twists, involving the murdered victim’s family and friends and various members of the Danish political class.

The second season failed to live up to the first, but the third marked a triumphant return to form.

The Bridge (available to buy on Amazon Prime or Apple TV)

Everybody has a favourite Scandinavian drama and The Bridge is very much mine.

The first season begins with the gruesome discovery of a dead body at the centre of the Øresund Bridge, which links the Swedish city of Malmö with the Danish capital Copenhagen. This necessitates a joint investigation between the two police forces, with detective Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) of the Swedish police being partnered with her Danish counterpart, Martin Rohde(Kim Bodnia).

We quickly realise that straight talking Saga has a personality all of her own, but over the four seasons she becomes one of the most enthralling and unforgivable TV characters to ever appear on screen.

The West Wing (Channel 4)

The West Wing follows the presidency of democrat Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen), and his inner circle of trusted advisers.

Bartlett is articulate, charismatic, passionate, intelligent and honourable; in short the leader of the free world that we’ve been crying out for for a long, long time.

The West Wing is superbly written, produced and acted and one of the best box sets of all time. Be warned however, it may well make you thoroughly depressed about the state of the politicians that actually make it into office in real life.

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