When a friend suggested that I watch a series called Borgen, which is about Danish politics, I hesitated. The phrase “Danish politics” seemed synonymous with “snore fest.” But I dutifully checked out Season 1. It sat gathering dust for a week before I popped it in the player. It’s in Danish with subtitles, and I groaned. Not Danish with subtitles. But I kept watching, and was soon sucked down into a vortex, where I discovered that it’s a great, great, binge-worthy series, one of the best. It’s the story of Birgitte Nyborg, a young female Danish politician who, though some of the twists and turns of the complex Danish parliamentary system, unexpectedly becomes the Prime Minister. Nyborg is liberal and idealistic and has a wonderful husband and two sweet children. Can she remain idealistic in the pressure cooker of politics? As a woman, can her family life have any semblance of normalcy? These are some of the obvious things that Borgen is about, but at its heart, it’s an unsparing lens into the Machiavellian nature of politics itself. Nyborg is confronted with intransigent power players in government and industry who would bring the whole world down about our ears rather than compromise. If you’ve ever looked at our gridlocked government and wondered what the problem is, watch Borgen. It’s instructive.
On the entertainment level, the acting is fantastic, and the story hurtles along. Actress Sidse Babett Knudsen plays Birgitte Nyborg, and actor Pilou Asbaek plays her troubled spin doctor Kasper Juul. Juul is my favorite character—he’s an ambitious young man with a troubled past, and his questioning eyes make me think of another famous Dane, Hamlet.
The word “Borgen,” by the way, is the 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.
Interestingly, Borgen echoes real life, as the current Prime Minister of Denmark is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who took office in 2011. She is the first woman to hold this post.