BBC Four have been reaping in high viewing figures after their early recognition of Nordic Noir programming, and can now add Borgen to their success list. While Wallander, The Killing and The Bridge all centred on criminal investigation and had thriller elements, Borgen, its second series now on DVD, is a political drama that succeeds in being both credible and compelling. One of the strongest performing elements in Borgen is lead actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg. Her approach to Nyborg’s character, and her struggles as a woman forced to make difficult decisions, is highly intuitive, believable and endearing.
It’s been ten months since Nyborg took office and subsequently took charge of a middle-Left coalition government. She fields strings of criticism from former political opponent Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind), turbulent conflicts in parliament and her soon to be ex-husband popping round with divorce papers and a new girlfriend. Facing a future without the help of her mentor and friend Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon) she can only rely on one person – media advisor Kaspar Juul (Johan Philip Asbæk). Juul is battling with his own past, and his attempts at concealing his issues from his new girlfriend, Lotte (Rikke Lylloff) are as unsuccessful as his efforts to move on from ex-flame Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).
Borgen really benefits from the calibre of acting talent involved, and while there’s plenty of gripping political drama, the really compelling moments are the intimate ones between the central characters. Juul’s reconciliation with Katrine in the season finale was extremely moving, as was the Nyborg’s visit to her daughter Laura (Freja Riemann) in hospital. She had just initiated, hosted and carefully mediated negotiations between rivalling religious sectors of an African nation at war, and is riding on a high when she finds out her daughter has been hospitalised. She sits in the hallway with Laura’s father, listening to political commentators declare it a proud day for Nyborg as Prime Minister, and weeps at her failings as a mother.
What’s interesting with Borgen’s second series is how much more Nyborg is tested morally. Faced with difficult decisions regarding western occupation in Afghanistan, immigration, the handling of juvenile criminals and the scandalous secret lives of politicians, she surprises herself with the compromises she makes. The final episode is particularly revealing, and we gain a deeper understanding of not just what her position means to her, but how high a priority her career is. Although Borgen does not induce the same levels of shocks or numbers of twists as its BBC Four Nordic contemporaries, its excellent script by Adam Price will not fail to impress.
The internal politics portrayed among the Danish parliament will be of interest to the Brits, as this is the first experience of peacetime coalition government most of us have seen (having last occurred in 1930s Britain). The only dud notes hit along the way are Borgen’s slightly caricatured African leaders from the fictional nation of Kharoun, who are under-developed in comparison to the rest of the characters. With this being one of the few flaws Borgen is guilty of, however, Season 3’s imminent arrival on BBC is going to be hotly anticipated.