For the last five weeks we’ve been watching a compelling Danish poltical drama on BBC Four called Borgen. It was billed as the Danish version of the West Wing, but actually it’s much better than that.
At the centre of the action is Sidse Babett Knudsen, cast as Denmark’s first woman Prime Minister. Not unlike the West Wing you sense that there’s a certain wish fulfillment going on here somewhere. And indeed last October Helle Thorning-Schmidt became the actual first Danish Statsminister. Her performance is probably the most compelling of a range of great performances from the cast.
What keeps it from the schmaltz that its American counterpart sometimes falls into is the constant reference to Machiavelli’s The Prince, not least the way relationships fall under the wheels of high politics. And the sniff of agenda, two-facedness is everywhere. And, common to almost anywhere with some form of PR, the sense that the people you can trust most are those, not in your own party.
One thing it does very well, largely thanks to Knudsen’s subtle handling of her leading role, is to demonstrate that when all is said and done, that politics is about the aquisition and retention of power. In doing so, it also peels back the enormous personal sacrifice that politicians have to make to make it work.
It put me in mind of this quote from Enoch Powell, fetched from obscurity by the late Horseman:
“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”
The first series comprises one year, the first in office. For the purposes of storytelling (and a bit like the West Wing) it is at times to credit the speed with which the plot or some subplot develops. The second will be screened next year on the BBC. If you can’t wait, then you can pick up
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty