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Borgen: The greatest political drama ever

Borgen: The greatest political drama ever

Birgitte became Denmark’s first woman prime minister at the start of the season one, happily married with two children, and was divorced by the end of that season – not unrelated events. The cost of ambition and success for women has always been a central theme, so gracefully integrated into Birgitte’s character that it never lands with a thud. By the end of season three she had started a new political party, had a new love interest, and was about to become foreign minister. Gazing at the Danish Parliament – Borgen translates as The Castle, the nickname for that building – she lovingly said, “It’s my second home.”

Now nearly 10 years on, as foreign minister again she is dealing with a prime minister from an opposing party, a woman a decade younger than herself. This prime minister has a prominent social media presence, posting Instagram photos with the hashtag #TheFutureisFemale, a public relations ploy that she uses to try to rope Birgitte into the sham illusion of sisterhood. Behind the scenes the two women are fierce rivals, endlessly at odds, trying to use each other. One of the bracingly authentic aspects of Borgen is how rarely it indulges in dreamy wishful thinking, whether about sexism, media or politics.

Capturing reality

There is no end to the show’s clear-eyed realism – at 53, Birgitte is having hot flushes, surreptitiously changing her blouse between meetings ­­– and there is no explanation of the time gap since season three. One of Borgen’s strengths is that it doesn’t insult the audience by stating what we can intuit. Obviously things didn’t work out with Jeremy, her British boyfriend, who is gone and apparently forgotten.

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Alone, her children grown, Birgitte is solely focused on her work, which gives the season its main, very volatile plotline. (Ukraine is more of a blip.) When the oil is discovered, Birgitte faces an ethical dilemma. She has campaigned on an environmental agenda and is opposed to drilling for fossil fuels. But the drilling would be worth $200bn, much of it coming to Denmark, and the prime minister wants to move ahead for economic reasons. Price says he appreciates the tension of this scenario, where “You challenge the tragedies of climate change with the gaining of riches of this magnitude.” In some alternate, idealistic series Birgitte might have resigned on principle. Not here. Price himself sounds very pragmatic, with an explanation for every setting and turn of character, including how Birgitte experiencing menopause speaks to her character. “She is very controlling, but she cannot control the nature of her body,” he says.

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