An Irish Borgen?

Dyspeptic Scots columnist Kevin McKenna (now where did that name come from?) is  so right when he says Scottish politics are too boring to mount a drama like Borgen. But then, Alex might reply that Scotland is not an independent country – yet. Staying glued to Borgen though fits perfectly into Scottish culture.

Manfully, I’ve been trying to lower the life expectancy of Borgen fans by preparing for the Saturday night fix thus: watching Soccer AM; grabbing a few Bacardis; smoking like a research monkey and jumping into a taxi for Celtic Park. Sometimes, when I’ve missed the football by choosing to tarry in the pub, I discover that I don’t need the English subtitles at all and can understand perfectly what lovely Birgitte is saying in her native Danish.

BBC Scotland must surely now commission an edgy political drama. As a salute to Edinburgh men’s fondness for woolly foundation garments it must be called The Vest Wing.

Shades of the scum philosopher  Rab C Nesbitt?  Now that was a triumph of Scottish creation even though the southern British understood it less than Danish.

What about an Irish Borgen featuring a reincarnated Mary Robinson/ Mc Aleese and a revived Charlie and the men in mohair suits holed up and hiding from the Revenue in their gated communities in the Costa del Crime?

Borgen ‘s attraction must be great for  small states dreaming of strutting their stuff on the world stage and showing that their politics can be as sexy as anything in the Elysee or the White House. ( I leave aside the North where politics and sex are too far-fetched for fiction). But blogger Jason O’Mahoney puts his finger on the problem for an Irish version.

Watching it made me wonder about how RTE could do such a show. It is not an impossible proposition, but there would be considerable barriers against it. The biggest single one I feel would be the tendency of Irish dramatists to always paint powerful people as inherently corrupt or evil. I’m not sure I would want to watch a show like that, about a crowd of bastards being bastards.

That means that such a show would instead have to be about good leaders doing good things, which would mean a show that actually debated real politics and real political choices. Would the Irish people watch a show like that?

Rather than “The West Wing”, would an Irish political drama not focus instead on some crowd of victims being f**ked over by some powerful bloke in a Louis Copeland suit.

If only life and politics were like that, problems solved or lovers deftly ditched in 5 minute takes, ending in hej, hej or the West Wing’s ok, ok

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  • I’ve not watched either the West Wing or Borgen but I’d imagine a Northern Irish ‘so, so’ political drama would have a strong Mafia edge. The following quotes could be slotted in quite easily:

    “There are three sides to every story. Mine, yours and the truth.”

    “Judges, lawyers and politicians have a license to steal. We don’t need one.”

    “Vote early and vote often.”

    “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun then you can with a kind word alone.”

    “If you think your boss is stupid, remember: you wouldn’t have a job if he was any smarter.”

    Surely an audience would just love to see a series where Permanent Secretaries squirm when taunted by ‘we know where you live’ -in jest, of course?

  • David Crookes


    When the newly-formed Trolls United Viking Party sweeps the boards at the 2015 election, Ruth Petursen becomes First Minister, Northern Ireland joins the Nordic Council, and the Hound of Ulster has his name changed to the Great Dane. Stormont moves to Lurgan, Belfast is renamed Beowulf, Kirsten Flagstad puts down the rioters, and Chief Constable Wallander is provided with a residence in Cullyhagen. All those who want to be able to communicate with their new Danish masters are compelled to learn English.

  • Mick Fealty

    Jason’s point is well made. You have hang your drama on what you’ve got. We keep our TDs and MLAs tethered to the groundby means of the policy shredding STV system.

    In DK they have a shared and communitarian value system that constantly binds them back to the ordinary. Birgitte is a sublimely idealised woman, but she fits a common type of woman there were juggling domestic and professional stuff is de riguer.

    The cynicism in Irish politics is corrosive though, and as Jason rightly notes, self generating. The Danes once ruled most Scandinavia, and were pushed back over the sea.

    We have a post colonial legacy which often brings us back to a “it’s not our fault” attitude. Size wise, Ireland and Denmark are similar. Ditto our historic dependence on agriculture.

    BTW, did anyone else hear Katrine tell Casper she wasn’t talking whilst there was a stranger ‘fornenst’ the door?

  • I think the Irish attitude to politics and politicians is best summed up by TG4’s drama-comedies Rásaí na Gaillimhe (1 and 2) and the latest series of Crisis Éile (which takes a nice pot-shot at the EU and the Brussels bureaucracy). There doesn’t seem to be a counter-balance to that unless one counts all those TG4 documentaries about figures from Irish history most of whom seem to have had far more integrity than any of their political descendants – or inheritors.

    I don’t think one can blame the dire nature of our politics on the electoral system, though it plays its part. It’s more of a cultural thing. Or perhaps more accurately a sort of “continuity state” where nothing really changes, whatever party or parties are in power (what Robert Fisk calls the “deep state” in the Middle East and North Africa).

    As for RTÉ it merely exists to pump out cheap British, American and Australian lowest common denominator imports. More of a national embarrassment than a national broadcaster. It would be incapable of emulating DR, the Danish public service broadcaster (or these days even TG4!).

    Lauren Collins has a long piece in the current issue of the New Yorker extolling the virtues of Danish state-funded TV that I’d recommend.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    The bit of Borgen that looks most foreign – and it may not have been shown on BBC yet, but this barely counts as a spoiler – is when women across politics and the media look astonished at being expected to debate whether a woman/mother can perform adequately as prime minister, and simply refuse to have the discussion. It’s fascinating!

  • Mick Fealty

    And it’s great, in fact. In fact it is so great, I’m not sure even the Danes actually can rise to such grandeur.

    One thing though, we tend to think of British and Irish media culture being the norm. It’s generally not. The Germans for instance have a much more settled relationship with their newspapers (and who’s industry by dint of the annual subscriptions) is stubbornly refusing keel over.


    I think Ruth Dudley Edwards once put it that the Catholics of Ireland are actually more like southern Europeans than northerners, which if even remotely true might explain why we so serially misunderstand each other so much in Northern Ireland.

  • Otto

    Just discovered the Danish PM’s married to Neil and Glenys Kinnock’s son.

    Borgen needs a big ginger welsh dude to make it more authentic.