Borgen comes from the creators of The Killing – which I do want to see but missed the boat when it first started so will have to catch up at some point – is a tense, political drama also known as “the Castle”, which 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.
As Season 1 begins, Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen, below-centre) is leader of the Moderate Party, and is in coalition with Labour leader Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind) who is looking to become PM. To give some idea of what Laugesen is like, he looks a bit like our own Alistair Campbell, and acts like a combination of him and another destestable, Piers Morgan.
She’s caught on the hop when being interviewed on TV at the same time that Laugesen is interviewed at an outside broadcast, going back on a policy on asylum seekers, denying them the right to stay in Denmark and to keep them in confinement until they can be deported. With the pressure piled on, Birgitte declares she no longer wants anything to do with Labour.
On the way out is current Prime Minsiter and Liberal party leader Lars Hesselboe (Søren Spanning), whose popularity is waning and who’s all but done for when it gets out that he used public funds to pay for his wife’s spending spree, on the high street, to the tune of around £8000.
Once in power, as Birgitte starts to put together a cabinet made up of several different parties (Solidarity Party, Green Party, Labour Party and her own Moderate Party), it makes for a fascinating comparison with our own coalition. Will they all get on? Well, we can see from the British equivalent that they can often make an endless hash of things… although you know that the previous lot never did any better anyway.
But life isn’t an easy one when you’re running the country. She makes key enemies in the press, when the ideal situation would be to keep them on side; she faces the pressure of those in her cabinet constantly chipping away to dethrone her; and you can see her home life slowly falling apart as she rises to power and then has to cling on to it at any cost.
Everything eats into her home life, to the point where that suffers and you look to see if she can restore what she had or if her marriage will fail as her political career soars.
Season 2 delves into deeper topics such as having talks about pulling Danish troops out of Afghanistan and most episodes deal with one topic apiece, although there is a two-parter about trying to get the North and South of a ficitious warring country to resolve matters. You could say this rather simplifies such topics, because everything has to be wrapped up within the timeframe, aside from the usual ongoing story arcs, but I can forgive that as we’re watching a drama, not real life, and it’s hard to top what it on show, here.
Borgen is a wonderfully-written drama series with well-defined characters you can care about, whether you’re inclined to side with them or hate them, in the latter case like the slimy little toad that is Laugesen, even though you can’t help but watch Peter Mygind play the character with relish. Over the course of an entire series, you can see how the games of party politics cause the balance of power to shift regularly. And even if you have just a passing interest in the UK political system, you owe it to yourself to watch this series.
Other key characters in the series include TV1’s early evening news anchor Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, above) – always in competition with the evening anchor, Ulrik Mørch (Thomas Levin); Kasper Juul (Philip Asbæk, below) – Birgitte’s spin-doctor; Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon, bottom pic), her Chancellor (known as a finance minister in Denmark) and confidant; Birgitte’s put-upon husband Philip (Mikael Birkkjær) and other TV1 employees, reporter Hanne Holm (Benedikte Hansen) and head of news Torben Friis (Søren Malling) – who is sometimes shown explaining the political process with Ulrik, on camera, by way of explaining it to us viewers; plus another of Birgitte’s advisors, Niels Erik Lund (Morten Kirkskov), her personal secretary Sanne (Iben Dorner), Labour defence minister Hans Christian Thorsen (Bjarne Henriksen), another odious character who’s full of themselves and who you love to hate; and Svend Åge Saltum (Ole Thestrup) who simply looks like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Borgen is a series which gets better the more you watch; and also the more you’re into politics in general, the more I feel you’ll get out of it because you’ll see similarities with all the shenanigans which goes on in real life. When this was broadcast on BBC4, it was shown in blocks of 2 hours each week, but with the Blu-rays, I’ve got so hooked on it that I’ve watched both seasons at the rate of one episode almost every night.
Oh, and at one point, as a character refers to the gutter press “The Express” with subtitles, “Nobody takes them seriously.”, I’m sure they slipped in some English language of “fucking idiots” 🙂
Borgen is filmed in an odd ratio. It’s not 16:9 and it’s not 2.35:1, like some recent Channel 4 dramas like The Fear, Secret State and Utopia, but somewhere inbetween at 2.20:1. It’s different, but it works really well and gives a good, cinematic look to the world of Danish politics. The print is crisp and clear throughout with no issues and looks fantastic on my Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and is fine, but there’s nothing to speak of going on in the surround channel.
There are a handful of extras. The first three are on disc 2 of season 1, while the final one is on disc 2 of season 2:
- Deleted scenes (19:02): Producer Camilla Hammerich takes you through a wealth of scenes that didn’t make the final cut for series one.
There are 8 in total and all are well worth a watch, even if they’re better suited as extras rather than put back into the programme. And the final one gives a hint at what might be next for Katrine in series 2…
- Composing Borgen (9:32): A featurette looking at how the music was created for the series, and they got it just right as watching several episodes of this wonderful series on the trot made the music stick in my mind day-in day-out.
- Bloopers (5:01): Does exactly what it says on the tin.
- Behind Borgen (55:03): Split up with 4 chapters, there are opinions aplenty as well as plenty of chat from the key cast members, and it was in the former of the two, when I saw Borgen being debated, briefly, that the people on that programme were all standing up to do so, as they do on TV1 News, whereas in the UK all debates are held sitting down. Just feels weird that they’re all stood up.
Anyway, this is a fantastic extra and goes into great detail about lots of aspects brought up in the plot of the first two series, as well as the times when, not only art imitates life, but also when life imitates art, leaving the writers wondering if viewers will think they’ve copied too much from a real-life situation when it was simply coincidence that such things were going on at the same time.
The menu features static links to the five episodes on each of two discs, with the theme playing in the background, all against some subtle animation showing various cast members. The music, oddly, has a slightly higher pitch, for season 1 at least. Season 2’s menus appear to have corrected this to a degree.
Both seasons have subtitles in English during any Danish dialogue, but when there’s occasional English dialogue – even changing within the same scene, such as if a guest enters who’s from an English-speaking country – only season 2 continues the subtitles at that time, but only when part of the dialogue came from someone speaking over the phone, or shown on a TV screen, and not in person. No face-to-face English dialogue in either season was subtitled, which seems odd. Chapters are very thin on the ground with just 5 per hour-long episode.
Running time: 20 * 60 minutes (approx)
Released: February 4th 2013
Chapters: 5 per epsiode
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen: 2.20:1 (HDTV)
Disc Format: 4*BD50
Directors: Louise Friedberg, Jesper W. Nielsen, Mikkel Nørgaard, Annette K. Olesen, Rumle Hammerich, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and Jannik Johansen
Producer: Camilla Hammerich
Series writing credits: Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Adam Price and Tobias Lindholm
Music: Halfdan E
Birgitte Nyborg: Sidse Babett Knudsen
Katrine Fønsmark: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Kasper Juul: Philip Asbæk
Bent Sejrø: Lars Knutzon
Michael Laugesen: Peter Mygind
Torben Friis: Søren Malling
Hanne Holm: Benedikte Hansen
Ulrik Mørch: Thomas Levin
Philip Christensen: Mikael Birkkjær
Lars Hesselboe: Søren Spanning
Hans Christian Thorsen: Bjarne Henriksen
Svend Åge Saltum: Ole Thestrup
Sanne: Iben Dorner
Niels Erik Lund: Morten Kirkskov
Magnus Christensen: Emil Poulsen
Laura Christensen: Freja Riemann
Simon Bech: Anders Juul
Pia Munk: Lisbeth Wulff
Dan: Kasper Lange
Pernille Madsen: Petrine Agger
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.