Have You Been Watching.. Borgen?

BORGEN Series 1, Episodes 9 & 10: Saturday 4th February, BBC4, 9pm – Episodes 1 – 8 Available on the iPlayer

Denmark’s latest drama super-export reaches its climax tonight and with more ‘Government’ almost certain to wash up on our shores before too long (by this autumn, Danish viewers will be on season three) BBC4 could have another cult-hit on their hands. Having missed out on The Killing when it hit British screens a couple of years back, I was determined to get in at the top here and after seeing January’s credit card bill, it was also good to have something cheap to do on a Saturday evening.

Set at the top of the Danish political system, Borgen (which translates as “The castle”, “The fortress” or “The burg”) tells its story through the eyes of two strong and not unattractive women, while building a excellent cast around them. An inexplicably young Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the new Prime Minister after her Moderate party form an uneasy Coalition in the aftermath of the opening election and Katrine Fønsmark (Pilou Asbæk) stars as the headstrong and talented TV anchor for the nation’s largest channel. Kasper, a charming and adept spin-doctor bridges the gap between them as colleague and old-flame respectively, while also providing some serious intrigue of his own. When his mum turned up and started calling him ‘Kenneth’ it was almost Draperesque and there’s also all that nasty business with his old man.

There are a string of other fine characters to enjoy though: Birgitte’s long-suffering husband, wise Jim Royle lookalike Bent Sejrø, right-wing lizard Michael Laugesen, Katrine’s old-school mentor Hanne Holm, who explained that “no one is asking the right questions” after the political kerfuffle of the first act, Katrine’s cautious boss and of course Olé Dahl, the married aide who lit a tinderbox when he died in Katrine’s bed in the first episode. The biggest arcs belong to our two lead ladies and both flourish professionally as the series continues. Katrine clearly has the stomach for a fight and her boss currently has to reign her in when she uncovers a story while after promising herself that she wouldn’t lie in her first 100 days at PM, Birgitte has developed the necessary talent for realpolitik to galvanise her liberal leanings. Yet they both finish this evening in limbo.

Some have criticised the episodic nature of Borgen and it is true that so far, each installment introduces a complex problem only to solve it with a masterstroke of left-wing policy. As such, despite the strain upon her home-life Birgitte has looked slightly invulnerable so far, yet that all changes this evening. Some of the tangents must also be taken with a pinch of salt in terms of political realism. The tiny size of the PM’s team, the fact that Kasper struggled to get his hands on a pre-copy of Laugesen’s book and most implausible of all, the notion that the Government’s head of spin has a relationship with the presenter of Newsnight, these things would all be laughable. But there is enough twisty intrigue here to make up for that. The episodic nature of whole thing means that while there are countless running themes, each week is a new story, which is refreshing. It’s working effectively for the time being, but it would be good to see some larger storylines next time out. Tonight’s final episodes indicate that we’ll soon be getting just that.

Most mysterious of all though is the Beeb’s decision to screen the series two hours at a time, when it could easily have supported a ten-week run-time. Maybe the channel bosses were in a hurry? Let’s hope they move their feet as quickly when the rights to the second series come up.