Under the spell


Photo: dr.dk

I am a little worried my co-workers will soon forbid me to talk about it. I am not even sure when it started but it hasn’t been long. It has led to very unexpected consequences in my behavior.

Are you wondering what I am talking about? Borgen, of course. I’ve briefly mentioned the Danish series before in a post, trying downplay my addiction by naming it in a parenthesis, but let’s face it: I am under the Danish spell. I’ve watched 30 episodes in two weeks and told everyone in my environment that they have to start watching. I try to explain to my co-workers that they need to see it so we can talk about it in order to strengthen our team relationship. I have started to love the Danish language and most uncommon for me started re-watching the entire show just two days after seeing the last episode. I never watch things twice. 

Borgen is the story about Birgitte Nyborg Christensen who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister. The series won numerous prizes and has been sold to tons of countries; Britain is even showing it in Danish. (In Germany, of course, we dubbed it horribly and showed it on the intellectual channel arte…) Critics have reviewed Borgen as part of the Scandinavian Cultural Imperialism that had several brilliant Scandi-series being exported to the world (and I suppose the fact that Swede Max Martin writes every hit song in the pop music world adds to the Cultural Imperialism.)

Played by the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen, Prime Minister Birgitte is an idealistic  woman who “always does the right thing” as my co-worker (the one who’s watched it) put it. She is married to a man any modern woman would want to be married to (when she gains weight and can’t fit into her dress, he tells her the dry cleaner shrunk it and buys her a new in a bigger size, handing it to her conveniently when she is super stressed about a TV apperance, and of course he wraps the Christmas presents for the kids). Principled Birgitte is faced with all the typical issues of politics during her term (from dictator state visits to prostitution laws) and maneuvers the Danish coalition politics gracefully but not stress-free. På köpet you get stunning views of Copenhagen and rooms all styled in Danish design.


Even though I certainly am interested in politics, the actual appeal for me is the interplay between statsministern and the media. Birgitte has a skilled spin doctor who helps her to handle the media and the media is portrayed by his ex-girlfriend Katrine (played by superb Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) who is an ambitious reporter. It’s all about how to communicate what and when, what not to say and how to avoid scandal. The storyline is actually so real that in my second Borgen week, when our German vice chancellor claimed on the news that he had signed a bill that had been changed afterwards, I was briefly confused about what was reality and what was Borgen.

“Borgen makes it clear that even a virtuous politician can’t be as decent as she’d like. Birgitte backs proposals she doesn’t quite believe in to enact bigger policies that she does. She works with ministers she’d like to fire but keeps on because it would cost her too much to can them”, NPR writes. “And, she’s loyal to her old friends … until she has to sacrifice them when they’ve become a liability.  Borgen reminds us what it’s easy to forget in these polarized times — that no political decision is ever pure or simple, and that it’s childish to think otherwise”. A study conducted by the Copenhagen Business School even found that the series had stimulated political debate in Denmark and combatted Danish voter apathy.

If you’ve watched House of Cards or The West Wing and think you’ve seen it all, trust me that you haven’t. One of the things I love about Borgen is that it is not American. It’s like a breeze of fresh air to be occupied with something else than dysfunctional Washington. Also: Female role models everywhere, hello! If you have the faintest trust in my judgement, you should really watch Borgen. (To add to your entertainment, you can afterwards read this very nice comment by The Guardian about each episode.)