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Borgen (BBC4) – Adam Price Political drama from Denmark to rival The Killing


Borgen - Cast



Borgen (BBC4) – Adam Price

This excellent political drama ended its 10 episode run on BBC4 last night. Following on from the unexpected world-wide hit with The Killing thriller series the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) is justifiably earning a reputation for grown-up TV driven by placing the quality of writing and narrative at the very heart of the creative process.

As with The Killing – series I and II shown so far in the UK – Borgen’s phenomenal success both in Denmark and abroad has much to do with believable, well-crafted storylines featuring among the many interesting and engaging characters, very strong leading female roles. After Sofie Gråbøl’s superb detective Sarah Lund in The Killing(s) Borgen offers two feisty, intelligent, idealistic women characters: first, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) as the moderate politician who finds herself Prime Minster of a fragile coalition: second, investigative TV presenter/journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) ambitious, rebellious and well, sexy as hell. (I know – but biology, evolution and old habits die hard).

The most impressive feature of the writing in Borgen is that this is primarily a credible, absorbing drama that explores social and political pressures within which gender is an integral part; rather than starting out with a feminine, feminist focused agenda. Stressful, demanding environments pose moral and emotional problems for both men and women; and present challenges to their relationships with one another as lovers, as spouses, as parents.Borgen explores these conflicts with an unusual degree of even-handedness which deepens the dilemmas faced.

The central relationship between Birgitte and husband Philip (Mikael Birkkjaer from The Killing II) is beautifully developed showing the fragile nature of even the most committed, loving marriage when tested by ambition, especially in his case, idealistic ambition.

The dramatic point, counterpoint of Borgen is achieved by the interplay of storylines between the cut and thrust political world of Danish politics and the journalistic challenge from the TV station for which Katrine is the front of camera campaigner. The small ‘p’ politics of the media and the government creates many of the absorbing events inBorgen. Linking the two worlds is political Spin Doctor Kasper Juul (Johan Philp Asbaek) sometime lover to Katrine; and Alistair Campbell to Nyborg’s Tony Blair.

Perhaps the most important thing about the success of The Killing(s) and Borgen is that they appear to be breaking down the resistance of English-speaking audiences to sub-titles. That will open up an absolute treasure chest of superb films from Europe and the rest of the world to an audience well-equipped to enjoy them but for one easily removed hang-up.

I find the more sub-titled films you see, the more unobtrusive they become. The process has a distinct benefit in that it induces a more focused concentration which draws you in deeper to the dramatic narrative. You also get to hear the music, the cadences of the original language – always interesting, sometimes beautiful – for example with French or Spanish but others as well. It is also my conviction that even brilliant actors lose some their assurance and expressive power in a language other than their own.

Do give Borgen a look before it leaves I-Player. You won’t be disappointed. And there is a second series to come – the finale of which was watched by 40% of the Danish population. Borgen has added interest in Denmark because of parallels in real-life Danish politics with the election as Prime Minister in October 2010 of Helle Thorning-Schmidt married with two children to Neil Kinnock’s son.

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