fri 24/05/2024

Borgen: Power and Glory, Netflix review - Birgitte Nyborg is back, more fascinating than ever | reviews, news & interviews

Borgen: Power and Glory, Netflix review - Birgitte Nyborg is back, more fascinating than ever

Borgen: Power and Glory, Netflix review - Birgitte Nyborg is back, more fascinating than ever

The Danish series about a top woman politician is still smarter than 'The West Wing'

Warrior class: Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg

Has there ever been a smarter television series than DR’s Borgen? It’s regularly compared to The West Wing for its twisty interrogation of government shenanigans – and certainly it pays to get to grips with the coalition-driven political scene at the Castle, seat of the Danish government, just as it did with Aaron Sorkin’s take on the Hill. 

But what The West Wing didn’t have was a character as beguiling as Birgitte Nyborg, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, to guide its audience. The truly clever thing about Borgen is how palatable its politics are, even when they seem mind-numbing on the page.

Denmark apparently doesn’t have a notably diverse political class, but its women politicos seem remarkable warriors. The show’s first season saw Nyborg unexpectedly rise as leader of a small centrist party to the premiership, while her personal life went into a tailspin. She is back after a nine-year gap, this time on Netflix, now serving as foreign minister and reporting to a crisp female PM younger than her who clearly views their relationship as a stilettoed version of mortal combat. 

Not since Schiller depicted a (fictitious) version of the warring queens Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots onstage have two powerful women gone nose to nose so satisfyingly in a drama. There’s also a third combatant in this ring, though: Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, pictured below), an ambitious TV journalist who as season four begins has just been promoted to running the newsroom at TV1, where she tosses out regular landmines for Nyborg to trigger. Fonsmark is seeking to put her fading station back on the map, and like Nyborg has a managerial style that takes its toll. The show has presciently packed a case and moved to Greenland for a large chunk of the plot, where oil, lots of it, has been found. Will the hard-up Greenlanders succumb to the riches the oil fields promise? Or will the Danes, whose kingdom still owns the territory, insist Greenland sticks to Denmark's climate change rules, which aim to reduce the country's fossil fuel consumption to zero by 2050? Deliciously, Nyborg’s own party created this legislation; now she has to tap-dance around the issue, with Americans, Russians and Chinese vested interests feeling her collar.

Adam Price, Borgen’s showrunner, certainly has a state of the art crystal ball. By making Nyborg PM in 2010, he anticipated the arrival the following year of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s first female PM. Now he has taken the series into the topical territory of climate change and the political price it exacts. The icy island Donald Trump once offered to buy has become a hot potato. Cleverly, though, Price doesn’t attempt to lecture his audience in geopolitics: he lets Nyborg seduce us into confronting the issues as she lives through them. 

After her nine-year absence, she is more fascinating than ever. She looks cool and calm but is now plagued with hot flushes and reaching for a wine bottle and pills. Her student son, a keen animal rights activist, is rebelling against her both as a mother and as a tool of government; and her aides are too young and green to be of significant support, except for Asger Holm Kierkegaard (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard from The Legacy), whom she has swiftly promoted to “Arctic ambassador". Like Nyborg, he is a prism through which to assess the issues he encounters in Greenland, as agile-minded and silver-tongued as The West Wing’s Sam Seaborn, but more interestingly circumspect than the Rob Lowe character, and not spouting screeds of policy at every turn.

Through all the political flak Nyborg powers on, usually alone, her mouth often set in a scowl. But then she wrinkles her nose and switches on an inner light for the TV cameras, and we see a born politician at work. Her quick, no-nonsense responses are staggeringly persuasive, even as she is betraying her own principles and entering yet another moral quagmire. It’s a terrific, nuanced portrait of power and its downsides, especially the recognition that, for women in particular, family life does not sit well with a form of governance that nowadays is always “on”. 

Birgitte looks cool and calm but is now plagued with hot flushes and reaching for a wine bottle and pills


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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No West Wing character as beguiling as Brigitte? How about Allison Janney's C J Cregg?

Sorry. Not even close. I liked CJ but beguiling she is not when compared to Brigette.

Let's just say different kinds of beguiling. Subjective, of course. I'd rather have dinner with C J

stunning performance from Sidse and script from Price that seems to echo so closely the political climate here, too. Big loss if this is the last series.

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