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This is a review of Seasons One and Two (20 episodes). Season Three will commence transmission on Danish Television on March 1, 2013, so we all have a long time to wait for the continued episodes. The first thing that needs to be said is that Season Two is far more powerful, intense, and dramatic than Season One in terms of the personal stories of the main characters. These become incredibly harrowing and tragic, so that this series continues to deepen and become more profound as it goes along. This series exceeds the brilliance and captivating character of both THE KILLING and MAD MEN (see my reviews), so that Danish TV drama seems to be reaching a pinnacle of such excellence one can barely conceive of anything higher than this. The performances, the direction, the ingenious, bold and confrontational scripts, the cinematography, the editing, the production values, are all so superb that criticism of them is impossible. The characters are all played with such force and fervour, such intimacy and conviction, that I fear Danish actors have surpassed the British, who until now were the best in the world. The most sensitive and wide-ranging performance is by the young Danish actor Pilou Asbaek, who plays the Prime Minister's 'spin doctor' (yes, the Danes use that English phrase). Asbaek's acting is a miracle of perfection. His range of moods, his expressiveness, his eyes, his face, his changes of voice, go far beyond anything ever imagined by Lee Strasberg, and could be described perhaps as 'hyper-Method'. Nearly at the same level of perfection as Asbaek are the stunning and brilliant performances of the two female leads, Sidse Knudsen as the Prime Minister and Birgitte Sorensen as Katrine the journalist. These three should all win International Oscars if there were any justice in the world and such awards existed. There is never one instant in the approximately 20 hours of this series when any of these three is anything other than mesmeric. They come alive as characters with such vivacity and conviction that one has to have a cold shower and calm down before facing the sad fact that one does not really know them and that they are really fictitious characters played by actors. One night my wife lay awake worrying about them, because of their personal problems. That is how it gets you! I don't believe I have ever seen a television series of this total intensity in my lifetime. What is so extraordinary is the well-rounded nature of the characters, who are seen from all sides and in all moods. This is as far from cardboard cutouts as it is possible to get on screen. The borderline between television and reality is obliterated by this magnificent series. The scripts are so clever that there is not a second's peace, one is swept along as by a raging torrent of events. The camera-work, with lots of travelling shots following frantic people as they move from one crisis to another like rabbits running from a farmer's gun, is electric. Many desperate political issues are faced head-on with the confrontational insistence which goes way beyond 'in your face' and reaches the level of 'seared into your brain'. Nothing and no one is spared. Politicians are killed, resign, are annihilated, commit suicide, are humiliated and their reputations obliterated with the rapidity and relentlessness of soldiers in the World War One trenches. In this series, politics is war to such an extent that one marvels that Denmark still exists and has not disappeared from the map of the world due to all that strife. If ever there were an advertisement for avoiding proportional representation at all costs, this series is it. This shows coalition politics from the inside with all its viciousness, betrayal, immoral compromises, back room horse-trading, duplicity, insane ambition, and ruthless destruction of people. No American or British series would have dared go this far. The Danes will seemingly stop at nothing to show a kind of hyper-reality on screen, and they have entered some kind of higher dimension of truth. This is not drama, this is war. You name a controversial political issue or international dilemma, and it is there. (For instance, there is a double episode dealing with the Sudan situation, which in the series is called North and South Karhuna.) The things which are said on screen about Greenland are astounding, and in Britain would surely have led to libel, abuse, or other legal actions for years to come. This is so no-holds-barred that the absence of any referee means everybody gets it in the eye. Sidse Knudsen rises above all this violent melée as a kind of lonely, triumphant goddess. As Prime Minister she portrays decency more convincingly than anyone since Gregory Peck. Her horribly narcissistic and loathsome husband, who abandons her out of wounded vanity, is one of the most hateful screen characters in years. He is played with despicable, self-pitying candour by Mikael Birkkjaer. Their teenage daughter, who goes to pieces mentally under the strain, is brilliantly played by the young actress Freja Riemann. The little son is touching and perfect, played with enormous, soulful eyes by child actor Emil Poulsen. Soren Malling, the police partner of Sophie Grabol in THE KILLING, brilliantly plays the TV-1 News editor. One of the most poignant performances is by Lars Knutzon as Bent Sejro, the Prime Minister's mentor. The revolting political villain Laugesen is played with such gusto by Peter Mygind that one wants to wring his neck. But the most watchable, delightful, naughty, impish, ruthless, pathetic, adorable, hateful, chameleon-like character of all is the compulsively magnetic and beautiful Birgitte Sorensen. 'Borgen' is the nickname of the Danish Parliament building (Christiansborg), just as Americans call Congress 'the Hill' and the British call Parliament 'Westminster'. This series is about courage and conviction carried to their ultimate limits, just as the production itself is drama carried to its ultimate perfection.
I'm a big fan of the series, but it probably helps that I'm the only
British politician (I was an MP for 13 years) who grew up in Denmark.
To complement rather than repeat the other reviews, a few words on how
realistic it is.
The multi-party negotiations are entirely plausible - that's how Danish politics works, and there are parties that switch allies from time to time. The balance between idealism and scheming is also really well done - most British and American movies and TV series portray all politicians as ruthless power-mongers, but generally politicians like to think they're doing the right thing, just like anyone else. The character are recognisable types - in particular, the far-right leader is clearly modelled on Mogens Glistrup, the entertaining, folksy and erratic founder of the current Progress Party.
The series is maybe a bit weaker on the big political issues, since it has to tackle something complex in an hour, and an issue like Afghanistan can't really be analysed in any depth in that time. The episode on a thinly-veiled Sudan with the smooth, corrupt Northern leader and the plausible Southern leader with some uncomfortable views is gripping but stereotyped. But it works brilliantly with smaller issues, especially those that interweave with the private lives of the protagonists. Above all, it creates sympathetic yet flawed political figures with a non-political private life, so much more like real politicians than the one-dimensional figures that the media try to make us.
I am not one to watch lengthy part series - not at all!! This one just
grabbed me and held me tight. The Danes and Sweedish do quality TV,
especially in casting and character direction. Compared to many US
productions, where characters are often like cardboard cut-outs, this
series gave us believable real live human people. Brilliant photography
and beautiful direction.
The story too was very well crafted, looking deep into human behaviour, morals and ethics in power, and the consequences of actions taken.
It is a series I will watch again in the future, if just to enjoy the rich texture.
I highly commend the production team and recommend this excellent series.
We all know a great TV show when we see one and this one is a great one. I am so tired of American drama that seems to all be written by one crew and all has one plot of killing a person then trying to figure out who did it. Borgen has gripping dramatic plots that is accentuated by great acting. The acting is intense and spectacular, and you have to see it to believe it. The dialogue is well written and the scenes are addictive and gripping. And no commercials or loud sickening music that is needed to keep the audience watching most of the cheesy American TV series. All the characters have there own personalities and show a sense of individualism that is so very refreshing.
It is just impossible for me to find the words to describe this Danish television series. It gives an incredible in-depth (and probably honest) view of politics, one you have never experienced before. After watching the first season of this show, one is already deeply impressed by the acting and the story line. Guess what: season two even beats season one. The private life of prime minister Birgitte Nyborg gets a more important part. Young actress Freja Riemann is magnificent as her daughter Laura. Also the other actors are of extremely high standards. To mention a few: of course there are Sidse Babett Knudsen (as Birgitte Nyborg), Johan Philip Asbæk (as Kasper Juul) and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (as Katrine Fønsmark) in the leading roles, but smaller roles - showing great acting - are played by Ole Thestrup (as right wing politician Svend Åge Saltum) and Peter Mygind (as the chief of the tabloid - low quality - newspaper Ekspress). Television can not get much better than this. I'll be looking forward to the third season as I've never been looking forward to any television series' next season before. This series is an absolute must- see!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nine o'clock on Saturday night has become European drama night on BBC4;
until now that means murder mysteries; a genre that works in any
language. Borgen, the latest offering in this slot is different though;
it is a political drama set in a system quite different to that which I
am used to so I was initially sceptical about how interesting it would
be. Thankfully the dramatic elements didn't require an understanding of
the Danish political system and the political elements weren't hard to
follow even though no time was wasted explaining the system. The series
opens with an election where the surprise winner is Birgitte Nyborg
Christensen, potentially Denmark's first female Prime Minister. She
doesn't have an outright majority though so must deal with the various
other parties to form a coalition. She does this but her majority is
slim so when anything goes wrong her government is in danger. The
series doesn't just deal with the parliamentary aspects of politics;
the media also plays a large part of the series. For the media side of
the story we follow reporter and newsreader Katrine Fønsmark, who
conveniently used to be in a relationship with the PM's spin doctor
Kasper Juul. Once Birgitte is PM the series is fairly episodic with
each episode dealing with a different problem; there are some ongoing
background stories and occasionally something we thought was dealt with
earlier on comes back to effect characters; although as the series
progresses her work begins to affect her marriage.
Having watched the first series I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed it and look forward to the inevitable screening of further series. The stories are fairly engrossing and the main characters are all believable and interesting to watch; I was so engrossed that I forgot that I was watching a subtitled programme in a language I have no knowledge of. Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Johan Philip Asbæk who play lead characters Birgitte, Katrine and Kasper put in great performances and are ably supported the cast of quality secondary characters. I can't comment on how accurately the political system is portrayed but this certainly works as a drama for somebody that doesn't know the Danish system.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At last, a TV drama worth watching. I came to "Borgen" on the back of good advance word and in the wake of other Scadinavian successes like "The Killing" and "Wallander" and wasn't disappointed. Excellently written and with a universal relevance and resonance in the political story lines (sleaze, corruption, foreign intrigue, political in-fighting etc), particularly considering Britain's own current coalition government took office about the same time the series was first produced. It all seemed real to me, the sets, the dialogue, the story lines as well as the portrayal of the different characters. Spread over 10 hour-long episodes afforded ample opportunity to get inside the skin of these characters and follow their development. Yes, one or two of the plot developments have the faint whiff of contrivance (the child abuse of spin-doctor Marcus, the marital problems of the Prime Minister and the rebelliousness of investigative reporter Kirsten) but the clever plotting and idiomatic dialogue keep it grounded. Each episode is different but linked thematically which invites continuity. The acting is superb, especially the three leads mentioned above. Good titles and theme music too!
The show follows the newly elected Prime minister of Denmark Birgitte Nyborg and her Spin- doctor Kasper Juhl. While the first season was criticized for being a far cry away from any realistic depiction of politics, the second season have climbed to be a great story about the life of politicians in Denmark. While the drama is sometimes is exaggerated compared to that of real-life (which is to be expected) the stories are however quite believable as many of the themes are inspired by true stories and problems Denmark's politicians have faced during the last 20 years. While the characters went from stereo-types in season 1, many of them have grown into dynamic believable characters in the second installment. If one can survive the pretentious opening titles and the dumb-wise Machiavellian quotes, the sopping drama from time to time, especially in the first run, second season we offer a rich and engaging story which must be applaud for its eminent storytelling and drama which is both entertaining and relevant for anyone interested in politics. Also one should not forget that this is a drama, not a depiction of real politics in the traditional sense, but is much more focused on the human cost and complications of being a politician. Cliché? perhaps but it's still being well executed. A fine 7/10 is rightly awarded here.
I have so enjoyed "The Wire", "The Sopranos" and "The Killing" to name
a few, that I absolutely had to post this, my first review. Borgen is
The human characterisation is immense and is simply the best (in my opinion) series, film, broadcast I have ever seen. Thank goodness for subtitles!
It is a fascinating insight into how government works in a democratic society and how it "maybe" deals with so many issues that affect us all. If you hate politics and politicians, this series will temper your feelings. My scepticism and my cynicism towards government will not be as entrenched as it has been having seen this production.
Superb acting by all the cast. Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!
I've always liked Danish cinema: the properly written stories, the
superb acting and the well developed turns which yet do not seem
unbelievable. Having been curios whether the quality I got used to can
be attainable in a television show I decided to give Borgen a chance.
Now I wish I didn't : I unfortunately became addicted. :) Since others
wrote so many things about the first 20 episodes I wish just to
continue focusing on the last 10.
I have to admit that I was really afraid of watching the third season. Having read unfavorable opinions I just did not want to spoil the satisfaction which I felt on finishing the second one. But seemingly against all odds I got deeply impressed again. Surely, politics and real world problems occupy sometimes a too big stake with questions getting debated on at a speed one can not easily follow, but the characters remained likable, flesh and blood, and the screenplay do not let them down. Sidse Babett Knudsen's performance is impeccable as always and Brigitte's way towards inventing herself again in politics as well as in personal life provides enough fuel for the story. I can imagine that Danish viewers find some detail exaggerated or too shallow, the presented relations or roles too embellished compared to the reality and the style on some places preaching but I just live in a country where the quality of the politics and the media is extremely low, the people vested with high positions can hardly be revered and the decisions made on governmental level are too often arbitrary. It was therefore interesting to see that there are places where this sector can be approached without any chance of laughter coming from the other side.
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