Written by TV


With two series of The Killing out the way, it’s time to move on to the next big Danish TV drama. And that would be Borgen. I say “move on to” it, but as of yesterday we’re eight episodes into the first ten part series.
According to Wikipedia, Borgen is the nickname of the Christianborg Palace – something I suspect that even six hours in, only the most astute viewers will have picked up upon.
Last week I was at the launch of a new Danish crime novel (more anon), and one of the surprises expressed by the authors during the Q&A was that British viewers were remotely able to grasp the intricacies of Danish government.
The only real link between Borgen and The Killing is that they’re both made by DR, the Danish public service TV and radio company. And you might recognise a few faces between the two series, not least Søren Malling, the much missed Jan Meyer from The Killing, here playing a non-too likeable TV news editor. The series isn’t a mystery drama, and there isn’t an especially broader “arc” running throughout the series beyond character development.
What Borgen really is, is The West Wing set in Denmark. Instead of a President, we have a Prime Minister (Denmark still has a royal family). And each episode is essentially dealing with a singular event such the visit of a foreign head of state, or the discovery that the CIA has been using a Danish controlled airport in Greenland for extraordinary renditions. In that way it’s very similar to The West Wing, with sub-stories running alongside. By the end of the hour we’ve moved on.
The cast is necessary smaller than in The West Wing, and everything feels more compact. Denmark is, of course, a smaller country, so there will be fewer people around.
I’d guess that they did film a fair few exteriors in the real “Borgen” building. It certainly looks like it.
If I had a criticism, it’s that sometimes the characters feel quite naive. One episode was focused on a bill to force corporations to have equal numbers of men and women on Danish boards. This causes one of the biggest industrialists in the country to come out against the move and throw his weight around. It was presented as a major revelation that various bodies and media outlets were owned by the same firm. In reality these things are not even remotely secret.
And the constricted nature of the piece sometimes works against it. “TV1” is the only TV network in town, with nearly all political interviews taking place on one of its two evening news programmes. “Express” is the only paper in town, sometimes making our own tabloids look good in comparison. You have to wonder what all the other journalists in the regularly packed press conferences are actually doing!
Katrine, one of TV1’s nightly news presenters lives in a flat so small, many students would reject it. Clearly Danish television presenters don’t earn the kind of money that ours are reputed to earn!
But I do quite like the family life. So Prime Minister Birgitte is always up against it with her family with whom she spends too little time. I must admit that it’s sometimes a little layered on, and if I was her, I’d very quickly get fed up with the attitude of her husband who seems to view her premiership as an irritation in his own career progression.
It’s fun hearing elements of English in the dialogue though. Perhaps more political jargon has seeped in Danish politics than in other areas. The opening episode showed the soon-to-outgoing Prime Minister getting PR from a London based team of consultants.
Despite some of its short comings, it feels quite genuine, and the story is never scared to move into difficult areas – certainly places that The West Wing would have found tougher to address in a conservative US.
If you’ve not been watching, then hit the iPlayer, or wait for the inevitable DVDs. It all finishes next weekend, and we just have to hope that BBC Four has another interesting import up its sleeves… [Update: It’s The Bridge]