In recent years, it’s become harder and harder to be a Dane abroad without being asked about all those television shows we export in increasingly high numbers. Of course, Nordic Noir has been a popular genre for years, most notably embodied by The Killing, which was recently remade in the US, but for the last couple of years, Borgen has been the TV show most often associated with Denmark and Scandinavia. Borgen means ‘The Castle’ in Danish and refers to the Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen in which the Danish parliament, ‘Folketinget,’ the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Court are located. In other words, Borgen is the indisputable centre of power in Denmark; a fact which is brilliantly illustrated in the show.
This, now internationally acclaimed, political drama revolves around the first female Prime Minister of Denmark, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, who as leader of a medium-sized centrist political party epitomizes the essence of Danish politics of compromise. After a chaotic and tumultuous general election in the pilot episode, when neither of the two usual prime minister position-holding parties, the Labour Party on the one hand, and the Liberals on the other, are able to form a government, the way is paved for the centrist Birgitte Nyborg to form a minority coalition government with her as Prime Minister. While the show might initially appear as a post-feminist utopia with a strong female Prime Minister who perfectly exemplifies the modern 21st century family wife successfully balancing the implementation of her politically correct policies and winning the hearts of the electorate in so doing while at the same time taking care of her family, the show is in reality more of a mosaic of various different topics and dilemmas.
It is one of the few shows out there which perfectly manages to capture the characters’ constant development. To be a successful Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg increasingly has to sacrifice time and quality with her husband and two children. But not only that, she has to face the reality of losing friends in politics. When her best friend and mentor Bent Sejrø tells her in the pilot episode that when assuming the highest office in the country “she will have no more friends in the Castle,” she hardly imagined that even their friendship would become challenged.
Now, what was initially expected to be an extremely national television show about something as national as domestic politics, the show quickly gained fame abroad in particular 1 in countries like the UK, France and Germany, but also in the United States. Personally, what made the show particularly appealing to me was its realism. Naturally, I, as a Dane who first learned about politics through the events of the real-life Borgen, found the fictional/factional resemblance intriguing, but the show digs deeper. While holding on to the drama of the show, it also teaches the viewer about democracy, and it does so by focusing first and foremost on reality. Unlike other political dramas such as House of Cards which, although highly entertaining, is still closer to a democratic horror genre than anything else, Borgen in turn attempts to show that politics is not all a game played by old white men with bad morals, but instead demands the participation of all and any of us. Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, her spin doctor Kasper Juul, the young ascending news anchor Katrine Fønsmark and the rest of the characters are all extremely close to the viewer in the sense that they almost resemble your next door neighbour. It creates an image of politics as something communal rather than something reserved for the few.
Newsweek called the show the ‘best TV show you’ve never seen,’ and a US remake is ‘supposedly’ on the way, so before devouring Frank Underwood’s slightly questionable morality in House of Cards, make sure to restore and reassure your faith in democracy with Borgen and Birgitte Nyborg beforehand.
By Emil Stovring Lauritsen.