Somehow, I managed to miss the first series of Borgen, the Danish television series
about politics and the press, but I’m expecting to get hooked on the second
Borgen is the kind of slow-burning drama that
British television often does so well but which of late seems to have succumbed
to the safely formulaic. It’s an
updated, more human version of Downton
Abbey, except with a cast of characters that sound all the more genuine for
not having to play all-too familiar caricatures, or wade through tabloid-predictable
plot contrivances. I wouldn’t call it
brilliant, at least not on the evidence of the first two episodes, but it’s
absorbing because the plot and the players come across as believable.
It doesn’t hurt that the two female leads are strikingly
attractive, not to mention fallibly intelligent, in a way that the dowagers, nieces
and butlers of Downton are not. The Danish coalition’s Prime Minister
Birgitte Nyborg, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, exercises the power of her
office ruthlessly while still managing to suggest vulnerability. (Her reluctance to sign her divorce papers
was especially touching, without lapsing into excessive sentimentality.) The political reporter Katrine Fonsmark, played
by Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, is a dish with brains, and a conscience that bucks
the demands of her paymaster, a right-wing newspaper proprietor boss. (Murdoch hacks, please take note.)
Borgen is compelling, but gently so, in a way
that serves as an antidote to the remorselessly bleak, sodden, stone-grey
realism of some of its Scandinavian predecessors, such as The Killing or The Bridge.
The series may ultimately disappoint, but right now it
looks better than anything else of its genre.