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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Danish West Wing? (beware of spoilers)

I am hoping to watch the last two episodes of series one of Borgen tonight so please no spoilers in the comments.

It has been a compelling experience though perhaps not reaching the heights of the first three series of West Wing. Nevertheless, as the BBC explains it has gripped the imagination of politicians, desperate for reassurance that the world they inhabit is not abnormal and can be replicated in a popular TV drama.

They say that Borgen has become the "must watch" of the Westminster village because it tells some uncomfortable eternal truths about the world of politics:

First, is the cost to friends and family.

As Birgitte Nyborg climbs ever higher up the political tree, so her family life disintegrates ever more disastrously.

Culminating in weekly diary appointments for sex with her husband, psychiatric help for her youngest child and divorce.

So far, so depressing but perhaps not so far-fetched.

After all, who at Westminster would not recognise those frosty dinner table showdowns or the strain politics inevitably puts on marital harmony?

And then there are the inevitable compromises. The fraying and forgoing of once tightly-held principles and beliefs as they collide with reality.

Birgitte Nyborg is forced to swallow her liberal instincts and, eventually, is willing to compromise with unsavoury regimes in return for lucrative contracts and jobs.

She becomes as cynical and manipulative of the media as those she once decried.

Finally there is the utter ruthlessness that Borgen demonstrates is necessary to succeed.

PM Nyborg dispatches her long time political mentor and cabinet ally with scarcely a blink as she seeks to re-balance her shaky coalition.

A foolish friend who's recorded making drunken threats is abandoned to be devoured by a tabloid frenzyPerhaps no surprise then, given this rather bleak take on politics, each episode of Borgen begins with some dark observation from the likes of Machiavelli or Mao. Or this from Lenin: "Trust is good. Control is better."

As they say, it is not the sort of drama to re-build our faith in politics but it certainly provides an insight into the peculiar pressures facing those in power, in a way that no British drama has succeeded in doing so far.
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