Monday, 4 February 2013


Yes, it's farewell to Borgen.  What I am going to do for 2 hours on Saturday night in future I have no idea.

I was a bit disappointed that series 2 ended with a sort of resolution of the problems that had beset all the characters over the weeks.  But, having said that, the big open-ended climax could not be more of a draw to watch series 3.  But it's not due until the autumn!!

Why has a series dealing with the complex relationships between the political and press worlds, in a foreign language (one of the actors is quoted as saying that you can't be romantic in Danish because it sounds like you're swearing), with a bunch of unknown actors (only the three leads were well-known even in Denmark), made by a  low-key TV production company, captivated nearly a million regular viewers in Britain?  I think there are 3 reasons.

Firstly, the viewing figures are not significant for a main TV channel (Borgen is shown on BBC4).  The main channels go for numbers, which means humdrum soaps, mindless quiz shows and series that don't tax the brain too much.  The modest, if surprising (it was never intended to appeal to foreign audiences and indeed makes no concessions to foreign viewers) success of the series though does demonstrate that there is a body of the viewing public that wishes to see more mentally demanding fiction.

Secondly, the theme of the series is that politics takes over the lives of ordinary people, but they are ordinary decent people, doing their best to get things right.  In other words it presents politics, government, and indeed the press, in a positive way.  In this scenario, even big business seems to have a benevolent role to play in government.  This is unusual in Britain, which sees it all, probably legitimately, as somehow seedy and Machiavellian.  This jaundiced view gives rise to our TV series, full of conspiracy, murder and criminal activity - all jolly good fun, and of course there is plenty of political comedy.  To underline this, Yes, Prime Minister, the stage version of the highly successful TV comedy, has just begun a nationwide tour after three fairly successful seasons in the West End.  But there are few examples on our screens of decent politicians acting in the good of the people despite the pressures of the job (is that too ambiguous?).

Actually, one of the features of Scandinavian politics that I find most fascinating, in novels as well as in Borgen, is the normality and openness of political life.  There is the Danish Head of State, rushing home to put a casserole in the oven for her family's dinner.  There are no cleaners or cooks or or even baby-sitters hanging around.  But outside her house, nor are there armed guards or squads of police.  Nor do her children have any special protection detachments.  And the press not only have easy access to politicians, but politicians feel constantly compelled to agree to interviews and appearances on TV.  Maybe this ordinariness appeals to us too - a sort of idealised world populated by those who govern us, the kind of world we'd like to live in maybe.

And, finally, there is the extraordinary wave of popularity for Scandinavian fiction on which programmes like Borgen and The Killing and The Bridge, not to mention Wallander have ridden.  And yet there is a major difference between the positive Borgen and the depressing society portrayed in the usual crime fiction, underlined in The Killing, even in the American version, by the fact that it was always dark and raining.  The open scenery in Wallander is equally bleak and often buried in snow.  In Borgen,you see smiling family life, happy lovers and broad aerial shots across the beautiful, sunny landscape that is Copenhagen.  Perhaps Borgen appeals in fact our to soap-watching tendencies?

Anyway, another measure of the success of these programmes is the copycat productions we see on foreign TVs.  The Killing, remade by Fox TV, had a successful run and the BBC version of Wallander was also rather good and as watchable as the original.  The Bridge is currently being remade by a British/French TV coproduction as The Tunnel.  I think you can guess where the body is found. And US TV is supposed to be making a version with a body found on the US-Mexican border.  I now see that US TV is going to produce a remake of Borgen too.  I find that a little odd.  I always saw Borgen as a sort of rehash of The West Wing; producing a subsequent rehash of Borgen sounds like reinventing the wheel.  I hope it isn't just another West Wing.  And, if it's going to present a positive view of politics, I hope it won't be too Disney.

I have commented before on the number of bandwagon novels that have been appearing recently, with mixed results.  I now see that Finnish writers are beginning to be published in English too and. most recently,a Norwegian novel by a New York author (Derek B Miller).  I suppose this sort of copycat production is inevitable too.  But it does underline the originality and attraction of the Scandinaviann versions.

And there is good news for Brits, another series of The Bridge is due and some concession might have been made for Borgen series 3 - the PM's love interest appears to be a British actor.  So we can look forward to more good TV and the allure of subtitles.  Perhaps it's not then 'farvel', but 'se dig snart'.  The Danish actor was right - that doesn't sound like something you'd want to say to a close friend!


  1. Borgen is excellent! I loved watching it too.

  2. Some of us here in Canada were just getting 'into' Borgen. There will be some disappointed folk.

  3. I guess this won't be a one off success and they'll make another gripping drama for us afterwards.

  4. I have never seen or heard of Borgen, although I am a Scandinavian reading fan. Probably because I very rarely watch TV (only East Enders or cooking programmes). Last week I read my first Icelandic detective novel. It was OK, but I am not an expert on Icelandic and it took a while until I found out who was a man and who a woman with their names. At least I knew that dottir meant daughter.

    1. BBC 4, Pat, if you can get catch-up TV. Which Icelandic author did you read?

    2. It was one of those deal of the day things on my Kindle. The book was Season of the Witch by Arni Thorarinsson

    3. Thanks. Didn't know . . . him.

  5. Gillian and I enjoyed Borgen very much. Just great drama. Well written and well acted.