The stories that emerge from Danish and Swedish television may not have all the bravado of Hollywood, but they can be deeply satisfying with fantastic performances. So it is with the latest series to screen on SBS: Borgen.
Last year Borgen won the BAFTA for Best International series, beating The Killing, Modern Family and Australia’s own The Slap.
This is a political drama set in the inner sanctum of Denmark as the country scrambles to elect a new government. Borgen means “The Castle,” nickname of Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark’s branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.
There’s no easy way to relate the attributes of this drama without some minor spoilers, because the first episode sets up the premise of the country electing its first female prime minister. But things really kick in from episode two.
Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the leader of a party of Moderates as the country heads into an election between the ruling Liberal and the Opposition Labour parties. But a scandal between television journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and a Minister will change all that, as dirty laundry is aired in public in the middle of an election debate. Seemingly disgusted with both sides of government, the public catapults Birgitte and the Moderates into the spotlight creating a rudderless tug of war for a new coalition government.
It’s here, in the second episode, that Birgitte must step up to the plate. The old guard of male politicians throw their weight around with the female Moderate, trying to force her to take a few ministries so that she lends support to their own government. But Birgitte yearns for a more optimistic future for Denmark and even her husband tells her she must take control if she is to lead, not wait to be annointed.
While Denmark’s political system may differ from the Westminster system, it’s impossible to overlook the similarities of a minority government immersed in backroom negotiations for power and recent Australian events. Deals are offered, power is traded, games of bluff are made in the blink of an eye. There are even debates about the number of asylum seekers seeking refuge.
Sidse Babett Knudsen is impressive in the lead role, as a woman of integrity forced to make choices that cause deep inner conflict. It remains to be seen whether she will have to sell-out on her own principles or, indeed, whether absolute power will see her shift from her position as a Moderate. I have a feeling Borgen will make the most of whether women in power can prove to be any more decent than men…
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as journalist Katrine Fønsmark also drives the drama’s key sub-plot, bringing emotion to a role etched in guilt.
As a Danish drama there’s not much in the way of light relief here, but don’t let that put you off. Borgen is an excellent arthouse offering for those dissatisfied by a diet of flashy American dramas. It’s already in its third season and NBC is planning a remake.
Why am I not surprised?
Borgen premieres 9:35pm Wednesday SBS ONE
David Knox blogs Eurovision for SBS.