Public affairs · Television

Borgen: The greatest political drama you’ll never see on TVNZ

What a find! The Danish political drama Borgen is quality television of the kind New Zealand no longer enoys. It follows the rise and ultimate fall of (fictional) minor-party politician Birgitte Nyborg, who becomes prime minister (statsminister) of Denmark through the machinations of that country’s proportional representation electoral system.
The scripting, acting and photography are simply superb, as is the opening sequence (attached). Nyborg (the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen) has to juggle the intense politicking of being prime minister with raising her two children and the collapse of her marriage because of the pressures of office. Other major characters include television journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) Nyborg’s spin doctor (yes, “spin doctor” is Danish for “spin doctor”!) Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk; he is also in Game of Thrones) and her husband, Phillip Christensen (Mikael Birkkjær), whose scene asking his wife for a divorce is so traumatic that Birkkjær in real life cried after filming it.
Denmark (population 5.7 million) is, like New Zealand (population 4.8 million) a small, vigorous democracy, though Denmark is much more affluent (“We are the 12th-richest country on Earth” Nyborg says when trying to justify improved public hospital care).
Like us, Denmark is a constitutional monarchy; its parliament was established in 1849, ours in 1852. Both are unicameral (single-chamber) parliaments; we abolished our upper house in 1951; Denmark its in 1953. Its electoral system is a proportional party list with a 2pc threshhold, unlike our system with geographical electorates as well as a party list. Ours is the same as Germany’s Mixed Member Proportional system — we got ours from Germany and we both have a 5pc threshold. But Danish political parties, like those here and in Germany, have to thrash out coalition agreements after an election, a drama that features prominently in Borgen. Unlike New Zealand, Denmark in real life (and in Borgen) has no Winston Peters figure who has been around forever, deciding who gets to be prime minister.
“Borgen” is Danish for “castle” or “fort” and refers not only to the Christiansborg Palace (the København building housing Denmark’s parliament, government offices, supreme court and the queen’s residence), but also the colloquial Danish word for the government, known as “Borgen” in much the way we refer to the Beehive. The word stems from the proto-Germanic “burgz” (a walled town) which is the origin of the English borough, Scots Edinburgh and German burg as in burgermeister (mayor) and Freiburg (the city in Germany).
The series is in fast-paced Danish with English subtitles, which oddly are in American English. Danish is, as is English, a Germanic language but closer to Swedish and Norwegian than to German, Dutch and English. However, if you understand German, then after a few episodes you start to pick out some of the more curious translations. And you also quickly pick out such nice Danish colloquialisms as “hi hi” for “goodbye” !
I found the DVD box set on Trade Me.