BORGEN: Saturday 7th January, BBC4, 9pm
Fancy a new boxset to help you through the rest of these endless winter nights? Well letâs survey the optionsâ¦ thereâs gritty drama The Wire, or perhaps our very own Spooks; either would easily stave off any lingering post-Christmas blues. However, what about a more international offering?
Think about Denmark and Iâm sure youâd be able to squeeze out the names of a couple of famous people; thereâs the writer Hans Christian Andersen, football legend Peter Schmeichelâ¦ errâ¦ does that dog from Corrie count? Youâd definitely be hard pressed to name any actors; unless you watched The Killing that is.
Despite the foreign dramaâs use of subtitles (on the basis of which some foolish souls may recklessly dismiss it) the programme garnered huge numbers of viewers for BBC Four and in the process managed to transform the way we think about Danish television. Iâd advise you to put it on the very top of your box-set wish-list. On the other hand, if youâre short of cash after Christmas then youâll be pleased to hear about Borgen, the new Scandanavian series which is threatening to pillage our Saturday nights.
Literally meaning âgovernmentâ, it’s a new political drama set to start this weekend and which â if youâve seen The Killing â stars some familiar faces. It centres around the character of Birgitte Nyborg, a party leader who is struggling to cope with a personal life and the escalating political instabilities around her. Unsurprisingly, it looks top-notch.
So why have Denmark suddenly got in on the act? Have they quietly been knocking out BAFTA-worthy drama for years, or have they suddenly come into some money and decided to give us a run for our own? It seems the answer could be a simple case of priorities. The production company behind The Killing – and indeed Borgen – is DR; also known as the Danish Broadcasting Company. Basically it is the equivalent of the BBC, funded by license fee and making it one of the countryâs most watched channels alongside its rival TV2. They certainly seem to have a knack for drama and instead of predictable scripts and lacklustre formulas they are focus on intense and intricate plots. It would be pretty unusual for a British TV detective to spend an entire series trying to solve one murderâ¦ they usually get it done within the hour. In contrast, The Killing uses one plot to sustain a whole series, frustrating us beyond belief in the process and allowing the viewer to see the realistic and devastating effect of a crime on all involved. Instead of victimâs family being allowed a momentary scene or two, different points of view are shown in depth. Itâs also a case of substance over style and instead of blowing the budget on a wardrobe, the main gal Sarah Lund is often seen wearing the same tatty jumper for days. How refreshing (â¦not the jumper).
Alongside this dedication to realism, these shows seem to respect, demand things from and eventually reward their audience. The Killing is akin to Mastermind with its drawn out conversations and blink and youâll miss it detail. I suppose the rather genteel Inspector Frost might in comparison appear a little more like Deal or No Dealâ¦ open a box and youâll find the murderer cowering, just waiting to be thrown in jail. One viewerâs enthusiastic tweet perfectly sums up the contrastâ¦ âImagine a 20 episode, complex, tightly scripted, beautifully acted, crime drama produced by British TV. The Danes can do it.â?
But the success of The Killing in the UK certainly wasn’t taken for granted by the cast. Lars Mikkelsen (who plays Troels Hartmann) was surprised with its cult status and in an interview with the Telegraph last year he said: âNewspapers here are talking about you raving about it. Weâre a small country. Every time someone really succeeds with bringing what weâre doing itâs a huge thing.â?
The unassuming actor also went on to hint at what else could have possibly contributed to the British reaction: âThatâs a certain Scandinavian toneâ¦ but I think thatâs why it communicates to you; itâs not that far from youâ? he suggests. âWe are related in that way which is why it translates well to your market.â? Perhaps we can blame the weatherâ¦
Be it their dedication to producing challenging television, or indeed our shared sense of Euro misery, thereâs no doubt that this Scandinavian sensation will continue to flourish. (The previous success of Stieg Larssonâs âMillenniumâ novels and TV adaptation of Wallander is further proof). Of course itâs not just us Brits who have taken notice, with those across the pond also seeing the potential and naturally taking it upon themselves to create their own bigger and brasher version of The Killing, not to mention already getting their mitts on Borgen. Whether or not the US attempts are any good is perhaps a question of personal taste (or opinion towards subtitles) but if the viewing figures are anything to go by, the Danes clearly do it better. With British drama often being a bit hit or miss it certainly couldnât hurt to look to our Nordic cousins for inspiration.
So as Borgen imminently graces our screens, an international crime drama could once again set the humble doldrums of BBC Four alight. Long may it continueâ¦ luckily for us weâve discovered thereâs more to Denmark than goalkeepers.