Review: DVD Box “Borgen” or “The Government”

Not truly a film review but: the three Danish tv series called “Borgen”, English title “The Government”, have been broadcasted on various tv channels in Europe. You may be familiar with the first series. I watched a few episodes of series two and three on different channels, so recently hired a DVD box containing all three series.

In this country, you watch tv or films or DVDs in their original language. Voice-over is for kids; subtitling for grown-ups. So my two words of Danish have increased to about four or five. But I must say, listening to actors speak their own language and using their own voices to act out emotions, reactions, thoughts and more, is far more realistic. Subtitling is more preferable than watching actors – especially the ones you are familiar with – speak in a language they don’t normally use and notice their words mismatch mouth movements, emotions, face movements.

This Danish series takes mainly place in Copenhagen and focusses on the fictional national political scene. Apparently, the Danes call their Houses of Parliament “Borgen”, or the castle. Guess like everywhere else, politicians like to pull up the drawbridge once inside. The BBC English translation came up with “The Government” for the first series.

If you have visited Copenhagen, it’s really nice to occasionally see familiar places in the background. It certainly made me think about revisiting Denmark again. But most of the action takes place in the rooms and corridors of power, homes and apartments, newspaper buildings and television departments.

The first series introduces Birgitte Nyborg, played by Sidse Babette Knudsen, and her family. She’s an idealistic and somewhat naive politician. The series also introduces many characters who return in the other two series.

Right from episode 1 of series 1, it is clear the focus will be on the murky side of politics at a national or international level. The Prime Minister is abroad with his wife. Thanks to her and the unexpected death of his spin doctor, he gets caught up in a scandal and announces a general election.

We meet Katrine, an ambitious journalist who was having an affair with the dead spin doctor. We meet Kaspar Juul, another journalist who used to be involved with Katrine. We get our first glimpses behind the scene of present day politics. For the series may focus on a fictional Denmark, but its themes come from real life and real politics.

Of course, Birgitte becomes Prime Minister of a coalition government. But during the first series, her home life starts to fall apart and she slowly but surely becomes an experienced politician. As she remarks in one of the episodes: she had not expected to have had to lie to her voters during her first 100 days in office. Well, she just did.

The second series starts more or less where the first one stopped. Birgitte has to come to terms with divorce. Her children quite like their dad’s new partner. On the political front, Birgitte has to cope with scandals, coalition partners who are anything but loyal, corruption and blackmail. She loses friends, as well as political and voters’ support, and perhaps even herself.

During the second 12 episodes, Birgitte is no longer the idealistic starter. She becomes a slick powerbroker, good at making deals and accepting her ideals may have to be watered down to get workable compromises. Her party and government become less and less popular.

The same goes for Birgitte’s spin doctor Kaspar Juul, journalists like Hanna and Katrine, the team at the prestigious television station and other characters. Kaspar Juul needs to face a dark past. Hanna, an alcoholic journalist past her best, may be a later version of Katrine and only gets a job because Katrine pulls strings.

All the various story-lines are cleverly linked to the main plot, as in the first series created by Adam Price. This second series ends with Birgitte calling an election, as opinion polls predict a minor gain in votes.

At the start of the third series, which has only ten episodes, a few years have passed. Birgitte must have lost the election, for she’s left politics. Like many real-life politicians, she’s now part of the international lecturing circuit.

While in Hongkong, she meets a new love. But back in Denmark, when her former party yet again betrays principles in order to remain part of a coalition government, she decides to get back into politics. This is easier decided than done. Moreover, Birgitte has to face a serious health issue.

All the other characters have also moved on. Kaspar Juul and Katrine are for instance no longer together. Like Hanna, he works at TV1. The team of TV1 has to cope with a new jerky boss. Katrine becomes Birgitte’s new spin-doctor. In this series, the focus is not only on politics, but also on the role the media play in politics. Even more so than in the previous two series.

Usually, series start off well enough but then deteriorate, start to repeat themselves, need more and more fantastic plots to keep the attention of viewers. This is not the case here. Each episode of Borgen is totally realistic and convincing. All the fictional characters find themselves privately as well as publicly facing situations any of us may have to face in real life. The fictional characters have to come to term with weaknesses, betrayals, disappointments, comprimises.

As one who had the chance to observe and witness relatives and colleagues operating at various political levels from the sideline – though not in Denmark but elsewhere in the EU – I found all three Borgen series totally convincing and brilliant. Working with a small cast of characters, this series manages to lift a tiny part of the curtain which usually hides how politicis in a western democracy works. It also shows quite rightly and realistically, how power and might corrupt.

So: if you’re facing a couple of days with nothing much to do, stock up the fridge and kitchen cupboard and try get your hands on the DVD box with all three series.

The DVD Box of Borgen/The Government is available through Amazon

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One thought on “Review: DVD Box “Borgen” or “The Government”

  1. Tak –

    Very fine review and analysis – I saw this series during last winter.

    Since the first run through I am sure I have watched various episodes from all three seasons at least twice.

    Was nice to read another’s opinion at this time.

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