A SHARPER BLUR

Wide Range. Cultural Focus. Editor Patrick Neithard

Cliques. Dangerous Cliques.

Woman On her way to the political Top. Sidse Babett Knudsen in Borgen. © Mike Kollöffel, DR.

Woman On her way to the political Top. Sidse Babett Knudsen in Borgen, Gefährliche Seilschaften (Borgen, Dangerous Cliques)
© Mike Kollöffel for DR Fiktion

Swiss Television SRF airs the TV series “Borgen – Dangerous Cliques” by Adam Price. A danish political drama of a woman on her rise to power. The first episode however was not yet that clearly pro-woman.

TV Show analysis by Patrick Neithard, August 21st, 2012

Woman in suit

Denmark, Copenhagen,  fictionally set some time before perhaps three or four years. Three days before the upcoming elections, the party leader of the Moderate Party, Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, unexpectedly turns the running campaign upside down. When an ambitious TV1 anchorwoman Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) nails her. Elicits a change of direction from the “family politician”. Prime Time, Evening News. `No! She would no longer support her coalition partners harsh asylum politics`, Nyborg replies. And the face of Nyborg`s spin doctor Kasper Juul (Johan Philip Asbæk), oh, it boils, while he now foresees votes in the elections melting down. To zero.

Somewhat a cliché, the pitfall of the Minister

However, the pragmatic politician, a `modern Hausfrau of the younger generation` headed towards the headquarters of Danish political power unexpectedly has assistance by two demerits of the opposition party. Demerit one is almost as showcase as politics may be. The neglected wife (yes, there’s that rub: the picture drawn here is simply anti-women) of the incumbent prime minister squanders, during a frustration-shopping attack, 70`000 Danish Kroner. (CHF 11`230) And it gets far worse. With their credit cards suspended by her husband, the frustrated First Lady orders him to the store. And insists on her consolation prize – he should pay, finally. He agrees, and in a lash-up uses the official Premier`s credit card. How will that be booked? As entertainment expenses, perhaps? Not quite a peccadillo. And as it turns out every so often, someone has to do the dirty work, thus the evidence of excess lands in the files of his adviser. And that one prefers to set things right, in, say, two weeks, in fact, as soon as everything else has gone beyond the stage. Much more urgently he wants to, as still married but already far away nibbling, end the hidden love affair with that news anchorwoman Katrine. And instead make their bond highly official. Preferably the same evening. Wonderful, no more cover-up.

Caught cold, red-handed

So, Anchorwoman and Premier`s Spin Doctor spend the last night in secrecy, but what follows is a rude awakening. He dies unexpectedly during that secret tête-à-tête. Ironically, only one, Kasper Juul, Anchor Woman`s former liaison, can help. That`s social mingling at its best, as he in turn is the consultant of Birgitte Nyborg. Upon Juul`s urging advice, Katrine vanishes through the back door, calls in sick. Meanwhile near the still warm corpse, something godsent is waiting for smart (?) Kasper Juul. Busy destructing some evidence in the love nest of his ex (there may be still some leftover feelings) he of course finds that bad receipt. Clearly, as loyal as he aims to be and as naive and doped by the idea of his own rise as he is, he approaches his boss Birgitte Nyborg. She however, in return declines and sends him with immediate notice to the streets. Her power stems from her own strength, not from other people`s weaknesses. His services are no longer needed.

 

On the eve of the election then, a televised debate between the political big shots. While Anchor Katrine is promoted to presenter by her sometimes awfully windy managing editor Torben Friis (to Katrine: “You will do well here because you look insanely good”) she runs up to mediocre form only, despite Torben Friis` (Soren Mallig) high hopes for good ratings. And while Birgitte Nyborg in a free speech (that one coming directly from the heart) tops any expectations, suddenly Workers’ Party Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind) winks loudly quivering with the dangerous excess-document before the prime minister’s nostrils. There he is, Laugesen, fishing for the last vote. And yes, of course, that is because Spin Doctor Juul has quickly changed parties. If this had been his last devoted service to his ex-boss Birgitte Nyborg, or whether creator Adam Price will surprise the audience with a new narrative shall not be said here. Additionally said, it`s a TV Show, there are hopefully quite a few episodes of politics ahead of us. What is clear for now is the victory of Birgitte Nyborg. She wins the election the next day as Denmarks first female Prime Minister.

 

Design quite cool, prices definitely hotter

 

Although production ran in 2010 already the political thriller, still, there is “now” a real role model ruling in that country in the north of Germany. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is the first woman on top of Denmark. And the, let’s be honest, from a dramaturgical viewpoint well interwoven fabric might be visionary. A political science degree however is not required to follow the storylines at a late hour. The strings rather play on TV Series and not that much on nimbus, power and god Mammon. (SRF broadcasts the series in the night slot right after Schawinsky`s format, which at times may feel as if one is heated up already and then enjoys the high dramaturgical performance of Borgen) Its genre mix orients itself on the ridges between docudrama and political thriller, (with its mass media presence) while private, internal scenes (which are to be more fully folded into one another) simply too often make for an Ikea scenery. And when the new power person thinks real hard, (already so powerful, yet so alone …) its emphasis is a tad too long. By contrast, it gets real, but enjoyably self-critical when the chase of the main broadcast unfolds. The hasty departure of the stumbled Premier leaving the TV debate: “Hold the cam on him, until he is outside, no matter how we come across!! It switches its genres from political reporting over to paparazzo seamlessly. Borgen , on a metaphorical level reflects mediatisation of politics, a phenomenon which was observed throughout western Europe in the past decade. Helmut Schmidt still knew how to impose on press people with slowness, so that they think with and about dignity. And he was allowed to smoke in any studio. That however was, as should the head of the Workers ‘ Party in Borgen state, once upon a time, another time, as the words “Champagne” and “Workers’ Party” never would have occurred in one same sentence.

 

The announced entanglements of power struggles in politics, often linked with those of domestic life one would anticipate higher than “Commander-in-Chief” did at the US-American series. That was America’s attempt at creating a series about the first female president of America (which so far remained a dream, as we know) with Geena Davis in the lead role. Unlike in Borgen. It gets exciting, thanks to Sidse Babett Knudsen`s lead. Critics praised her already after the smaller role in Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (with Nicole Kidman in a leading role) noting her mutability and the embodiment of a `completely new type of woman`. Sidse Babett Knudsen`s depiction of Birgitte Nyborg, a woman on her way to power, won her a Festival de Télévision de Monte Carlo Golden Nymph. And there are other prizes the first season (of three) already cleared. Oh and last but not least. American Television wants the rights for a reshoot.

 

BAFTA Television Award 2011 for screenplay and production
in Italy at the Prix Italia and French in
Biarritz, France, the Fipa for Best International Series

 

“Borgen. Gefährliche Seilschaften” ( Borgen, Dangerous Cliques)
DEN, denish/ German dubbed episodes 58 minutes
23: 45h SF1/now SRF after "Schawinsky"
Production Company DR Fiktion
Creator & Writer Adam Price
Writer: Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Tobias Lindholm
Directors: Søren Kragh Jacobsen, Mikkel Nørgaard, Annette K. Olesen, Rummle Hammerich
 
Sidse Babett Knudsen : Birgitte Nyborg
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen: Katrine Fonsmark
Emil Poulsen: Magnus Christensen
Søren Mallig: Torben Friis
Pilou Asbæk: Kasper Juul

 

 

© A Sharper Blur and Patrick Neithard, Zurich

 

 

 

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