Dansmark Radio, 2010-13
Adam Price, Louise Friedberg et al
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog
Nonfamily dramas with strong socioeconomic themes
For years, I have contended that there is no better way to understand the system you are in and your degree of socialization to it, without an international perspective. Insight into how other countries operate—politically, economically, and socially—is a good way to appreciate the privileges of your own and to acknowledge its constraints. That the lessons are accompanied with intrigue, tension, crises, and poignant moments is a bonus.
Borgen is a present-day series about politics in Denmark and the rise of its first female prime minister. Starring Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, A Hologram for the King) as Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, the series depicts a convergence of the different interests that make the Danish government work. Through portrayals of power‑sharing across political parties and even the process of selecting a prime minister, the show presents what it means to serve and be accountable to the electorate.
Unlike the United States, Denmark consists of more than ten political parties, five of which occupy approximately three-quarters of its 179 elected parliamentary seats. The system still holds firm after more than 170 years and yields the intentional effect of forcing cooperation, negotiation, and compromise with groups that have distinct and sometimes opposing political ideas and priorities. This against the backdrop of the centuries-old buildings, small living quarters, cozy cafes, and cool temperatures gives us a feel for the culture of the North European country.
A wife and mother of two, Christensen is overwhelmed by parental demands, as are most protagonists in stories about career women. Also, predictably, she is saddled with a loving but unfaithful husband, portrayed by Mikael Bikkjaer. A wise senior adviser, played by Lars Knutzon, helps her realize her power and to grasp a more complete view of the Danish political landscape. This proves to be epiphanous for the leader of the newly elected majority party in Parliament.
Much like The West Wing, the series takes viewers inside the room where negotiations are conducted, tensions and ambitions are revealed, and wills are tested. Indeed, the efforts to undercut Christensen’s power are continuous. A CEO threatens to relocate his billion-dollar company if a measure passes mandating that women comprise half of all private sector board members. In a private, late-night meeting with Christensen, the man calmly sips his coffee from the fine china and states with strong self‑assurance, “… we cannot risk having incompetent leadership in our companies due to state intervention.”
Politics are around the clock in this series where there is no rest for the weary prime minister. The constant wrangling for attention, power, and control are ever-present, and each has to be weighed against the country’s social-democratic values. When a cabinet minister discloses the cease-and-desist order he took against a group of journalists because he could not find a mole, the prime minister admonishes him and squashes the action, referring to it as out of line with their principles. When political tensions arise with a former colony, she dismisses the leader with niceties because of “more important matters” she needs to attend to at home. Realizing the need to recalibrate, she learns about the damage of colonization, triggering for us the experiences of Indigenous people in the U.S.
What is most interesting about this series is it allows us to see up close how multiple interests can be served at the national level. The show, then, forces us to reckon with the constraints of a system that drives and cajoles us into bifurcated camps and often antagonistic political identities as Democrats or Republicans. If you like pondering political matters like these, you might want to give Borgen a try. It’s also pretty cool to see the virtues of only two people debating at a time, standing at a small round table with the moderator between them! Yeah—different.