06 February 2012

The Queen of the Castle (Grand Review: 'Borgen')

DR, the people who brought you a sweater-clad woman trying to solve murders, now bring you a suit-clad woman trying to run a small European country.

Borgen ("The Castle", the BBC deciding not to use the English-language title of Government that DR uses) is the tale of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the leader of a small party who finds herself, through a combination of her own skill and a spin doctor dying while in possession of compromising information about the incumbent, becoming Prime Minister of Denmark. A morally upright politician, we see the corrosive effects of power and government on her morals, along with her family life.

At the same time, we follow the work of a TV news team for the fictional TV1 channel, as they report on the goings-on with this administration. The key character is journalist and anchor Katrine Fønsmark, who used to have a relationship with Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister's spin doctor.

Borgen is definitely a dramatic show - the deterioration of the Christensen family relationship is uncomfortable to watch and there's some big stakes at play. However, it's also funny. The dialogue sparkles and the whole thing reminds one of The West Wing - something the writers did deliberately (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, who plays Fønsmark, has said that she based her line delivery on CJ Cregg's - it's pretty obvious now that she's mentioned it).

In fact, it is the best contemporary political drama I have seen since The West Wing. In comparison with The Killing, it actually surpasses it in a number of key aspects. In particular, its lead character is far more interesting than the rather dour Sarah Lund (could you see her playing with children?). Considering she speaks "better" English than some Brits, Knudsen would be highly welcome in any BBC drama.

This is not to say that this is a perfect show - Episode 4, involving CIA rendition flights, is a bit too heavy handed and rests on the premise of an essentially out of control PET (rendered "Special Branch" in the subtitles, this is the Danish equivalent to MI5). The season ending is also a bit weak.

However, none of these detract too much from what is a wonderful achievement for any network, especially DR, who has a tiny drama budget that an American show could blow through in four or five episodes. It's witty, it's meaningful and it's clever.

Well done, BBC4, you've surpassed yourself again in buying this.


PS One final thing - there are quite a few alumni from The Killing here, including both of Sarah Lund's previous detective partners and Theis Birk Larsen as the Defence Minister. So, you've got another reason to watch.

No comments: