Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Danish Invasion

During the Dark Ages, with the Vikings at their belligerent high-water mark, the English used to pay the Danes to stay away: Danegeld.  These days, it seems, the boot is on the other foot.  Now we pay them to come over here - or at least to send us their best television.  The two series of The Killing are among the best crime dramas in recent years; and last weekend saw the final episode of something even better: Borgen, a compelling and incisive study of the insidious effects of power, starring the magnetic Sidse Babett Knudsen.

Knudsen plays Birgitte Nyborg, the leader of a minority Danish party who, to the despair of her spin-doctor, throws away her script and speaks from the heart.  This moment makes a connection with the voters, and she scores an unexpected electoral success which makes her Staatsminister (Prime Minister) heading a fragile coalition.  She soon finds, however, that gaining power is the easy part; as the series unfolds, she is forced into a series of compromises and betrayals that take her ever further from the idealism which swept her into office.

You may have difficulty in believing that a subtitled drama about the intricacies of Danish coalition government can travel.  But Borgen uses this backdrop to explore themes of Shakespearean breadth: the nature of power, the corruption of ideals, loss of trust and betrayal.  Any temptation to soften the ending is resisted: the finale is bleak, and the price of power is exacted in full.

If you only watch one subtitled programme this year, make sure it's Borgen.