I was excited to finally catch up with this TV drama on Danish politics, because I’d enjoyed its lead Sidse Babett Knudsen previously and am interested in how countries run.
Unlike comparable shows, I looked forward to seeing a person of principle in leadership. Sidse’s character’s surname Nyborg means ‘new castle’. And Castle is the nickname of Danish government, from where the show gets its title. So is it saying that the fictional first woman prime minster (what took you so long!) is a new kind of leader and government?
But it didn’t take many of the 30 episodes to make me angry enough to start calculating my DVDs’ second hand worth. In one tenth of the show, Birgitte Nyborg has abandoned what made her endearing, and is very much of the old stronghold. Most of her acts are against the principles I’d expect of her. Yes, she’s meant to be roundedly human with mistakes and struggles. It made the show more appealing than those which just focus on political drama. I liked the early, sometimes naïve and unsure Birgitte. I rallied for her. But she got eaten by the end of episode 3 and from thereon, we only see flashes of her.
I realise the kindredness of Birgitte Nyborg to Wonder Woman – who I often write about on here. Perhaps the looks of Lynda Carter and Sidse are similar. They are women doing unusual jobs for their gender and fighting for democracy and high principles. But the charm faded through their trio of seasons as the lead got harder and tougher, focussing on being slinky, steely and bossy.
And worryingly, according to some comments I’ve heard, slinky and steely does it for the audience. Not for nothing does Borgen often open with a quote from Machiavelli. I thought these were ironic, but Sidse the Statsminister comes uncomfortably close to him. And yet she’s seen as still the heroine.
“You’re the best prime minister that Denmark’s ever had,” she’s told. Well, if true, the Danes have had a bad run and should aim higher.
Here’s just some of the things which made me angry about Birgitte in Borgen:
– she gives another small, kindred party a made up ministry to fob them off
– she sacks two friends in the 1st season, another in series 3, and many others – without notice
– she orders and rarely thanks. “I need you to come over. I know it’s late,” she says to her staff at 3am! “I need you to… This is not up for discussion,” she tells her husband, who ‘misses his wife’! – And not just because she’s not at home much. We do too, Phillip!
– she leads in the hard headmistress manner, as if it’s weak to ask and consult
I see a lot of Sidse’s role as dominatrix Cynthia in The Duke of Burgundy in Birgitte
– After Amir leaves, she seeks him out at home for a job she needs, but doesn’t apologise
– she lets serious gay persecution pass for the sake a precarious peace deal
– she thinks in terms of strategy and victory
– she’s prepared to use an old misdemeanour to discredit a rival. It’s not her who stops it
– she tells long suffering Phillip he’s weak for leaving her too soon. I’d have gone already!
– she gives in to the medical system twice without questioning (interesting role reversal)
– she medical queue jumps thrice – for her daughter, and twice for herself
– In series 3, she says: this is a room of dreams, but now we need to consolidate. Ie, which of you are with my dream? Or else, you’re leaving
– she never consults or mingles with the public she claims to support and who chose her
– she publicly provokes her old colleague deliberately and pulls holes in his arguments
– she says no to Jorgen the Viking’s financial support because of his strings, but then is back asking for it later
– she is obsessed with the cult of her, her leadership, her ideas, her party. When Unpop Culture blogger calls the New Democrats the Birgitte Party, he’s right.
– she and the show quickly drop the hot potatoes of war, spies, and prisoner cruelty
– she and the show suggest that leaders must be ruthless and put feelings second, and often their principles too. Professionalism means: even my bereavement won’t stop this election
Borgen sometimes is able to bring in many voices to a complex situation; sometimes it clearly comes down with a view, and feels like public information broadcasting rather than drama. Most real media challenges come from the muckraking gutter press; otherwise, the news says what its told it’s allowed to.
Borgen appears to be self reflexive. The show seems to say: news is hot, politics are hot, make sure you tune in and vote and appreciate your official quality broadcasting company (probably by paying hefty taxes to it). Compromise is necessary, idealism not possible. Work before play and personal relationships – be grateful for the sacrifices our leaders make for you, and if you are one or work with one, be prepared to make the same. Note that it’s made by Radio Denmark and over here, it was shown by the BBC. I am avoiding the BBC due to the reasons in my last post.
The fast fire news format is no better than Alex’s gameshows ultimately, for no-one gets to talk properly – it’s all about provocation and spectacle.
Here’s some hard news:
Many of us don’t follow parliamentary politics. Katrine’s angry at a friend for not watching her on the news, but he’s resisting the package they present as what’s happening. Borgen suggests that media and media advisors run the country, but actually that parliamentary politics is far removed from most of our lives and what matters.
We need something and someone much more different than Birgitte and her party, and a show which goes further in its courage to portray life as it really is, and as it could and should be, and to not assume that the latter is impossible.
For much of this show, Birgitte’s got her bra and knickers on the wrong way round: her priorities and values are all askew. She’s not ultimately a Wonder Woman, more a Twisted Sister.
But I’m not taking offers on my DVD set just yet.