Sunday, 8 January 2012

Borgen: Good news for fans of passive Danish language-learning who like a multi-layered plot

Good news for fans of passive Danish language-learning for two hours on a Saturday night with a bit of multi-layered plot thrown in for good measure - new BBC Four political drama Borgen looks like it might be quite good.

It's not, of course, The Killing - there's no police, no murder and fewer scenes in the dark - but the similar origins of both (they're from the same Danish production company and are in the same BBC Four slot) makes comparisons inevitable.

And either the pool of good Danish actors is very small or the producers hoped for a bit of Forbrydelsen magic with their casting - as both of Sarah Lund's main sidekicks are here in Borgen.

The Killing's series one Jan Meyer (Søren Malling) plays a tv politics editor, Torben, complete with a pair of black-rimmed 'meedja' spectacles, while second series sidekick turned bad guy Ulrik Strange (Mikael Birkkjær) plays the be-cardiganed Phillip, also with spectacles.

How much attention we should pay to the spectacles is not yet clear. Are they a disguise? Do producers think we won't recognise the actors? Or is it a short-hand that says 'character'? Or is just eye-sight in forty-something Danish men really bad?

Phillip is main character and prime minister hopeful Birgitte's impossibly supportive husband, and he is never too far from a laptop and a playful quip or two, as he peers over those spectacles or offers his wife a glass of red after a long day.

And the stable domestic background of Birgitte makes a nice change - there's not much of the drama cliche of 'high flying career woman worrying over the work/life juggle' plot lines here, although Birgitte is worrying about fitting into her suits, and so bans biscuits in work meetings - and never under-estimate the challenge of convincing 'biscuit acting'. No-one wants crumbs.

Political tv journalist Katrine not on the phone to the police
But two episodes in and key plot questions are forming.

Why, for example, did the switched-on and very capable political journalist Katrine simply not call the police when she realised her secret lover Ole - the married PR adviser to the original PM and who had just decided he would leave his wife to be with Katrine - had died suddenly in his bed, while she was pottering about in his bathroom?

Yes, she panicked, and yes, she wasn't meant to be there, and yes she was probably thinking about her career, but it seems a bit incredible.

Especially as her presence there is bound to come out soon enough.

Instead, she called her ex, Kasper, the morally ambiguous and ambitious PR assistant to Birgitte.

He sent Katrine away and made it look like Ole died alone.

So the answer, of course, is simple - when removing evidence of Katrine from the scene, and thereby protecting the dead man's reputation, it gave Kasper an opportunity to find the receipt that Ole had taken from the PM which proved he used a state-funded credit card to buy his sick wife a handbag after she'd got upset in a shop. The card's use was an emergency but, politically, it could cause trouble.

And so begins a key plot device, as later, it does indeed cause trouble - but it works to the advantage of Birgitte, while the PM and his wife go on tv to explain the situation.

Episode two ends amid lots of characters striding and talking and later both striding and talking at the same time - often in corridors, sometimes on steps - with Birgitte now able to form a coalition government and becoming the first female prime minister of Denmark.

But with a tv politics editor dismissed because someone leaked the fact she's an alcoholic, the failure of the Labour leader Michael Laugesen to become involved in the new government, and a now sacked and increasingly creepy Kasper sniffing about (and armed with the knowledge that Ole didn't die alone), there's more than enough story to keep us all watching.

So maybe it's just as well Katrine didn't call the police - not only would we not have so much plot to fret about, but even just the prospect of an appearance by Sarah Lund might have proved too distracting.

It looks like Borgen's got enough going on to not even need her.

Even if she came in the jumper.


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