Culture / Review

Birgitte is Back: ‘Borgen (S4)’ Series Review

Twelve years on from its first series (and an eight year hiatus), the Danish political drama has returned for a surprise fourth series: Borgen: Power & Glory had its Netflix release last Thursday, and perhaps its new theme music suggests a new era, not a continuation..

Xander Brett

Eight years ago, we said goodbye to the fictional former Danish prime minister, Birgitte Nyborg. Borgen’s series three was announced as its last. But Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays Nyborg, says she bid farewell to its creator, Adam Price, with a cheery “see you in ten years”. And so, in fact, that proved to be. A few years ago, Netflix jumped aboard the bandwagon that offered the UK alternative ‘Scandi cool’ in the height of ‘Nordic noir’ domination (‘politics made human’, as the Guardian described it). Denmark’s intricate political system, the myriad details of coalition arrangements (the UK was getting to grips with its own)… this straightforward opposite of America’s presidency infatuated us, with millions tuning in for an intelligent Danish West Wing. Little surprise, the series soon spread to channels across continental Europe.

Alongside following Nyborg’s experiences in government, the series stood out with its exploration of Denmark’s media scene, with the big boss of (fictional) TV1, Torben Friis (poster-boy Dane Søren Malling), and the irresistibly beautiful Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). Then, in a twist, reality followed fiction when, in 2011, Helle Thorning-Schmidt became the first female prime minister of Denmark, mirroring Nyborg’s propulsion to power in an unexpected power vacuum. Over the few years, on DR in Denmark and BBC Four in the UK, we saw Nyborg ascend to the premiership, dealing with personal and professional difficulties, then throw it all away with a snap election, building her own centrist party, the Nye Demokrater, as the series petered out, coming to what seemed on paper a very natural end… albeit with some wriggle room to return.

And it’s that wriggle room the producers have squeezed out. Because, in series four of what risks becoming a Downton Abbey-esque, never-ending saga, Nyborg is back in government: this time as foreign minister. The series is still made by Danish national broadcaster, DR, and has already aired in the Nordic countries, bypassing the BBC this time to land straight on Netflix elsewhere. Price was hosting his TV cooking show (he’s a busy man) five years ago when a guest, the former Danish foreign minister Martin Lidegaard, approached him with a plotline, begging (like many) for the hit drama to come back. Needless to say, he gave in, and the result is a story that explores the fallout of oil discovery in Denmark’s Greenland dependency.

A timely series, Borgen: Power & Glory (as the fourth shot has been titled) may suffer from the over-glitz of a Netflix money machine makeover, but it comfortably remains ‘politics made human’. Certainly – and sadly – however, the Danish that gave rise to ‘hygge’ spin-off crazes has been diluted with a good smattering of English, as the Danes deal with Americans (… asked, by the way, whether former President Trump’s suggestion of ‘buying Greenland’ was a plausible plotline, Price is said to have laughed it off as something he ‘couldn’t make up’). The bigger question – and the English smatterings speak to this – is whether, ten years on from the start of our Scandi obsession (when the UK had a stable coalition government) our love for this series – and Denmark – has stood the test of time. I’m not the first to ask whether this series, perhaps inevitably, should have quit, as planned, when it was firmly ahead. Age has been built into the plot, and as a one off, it’s fine… but it wouldn’t be wrong to wonder whether this prime cut of Danish television (sitting comfortably alongside The Bridge and The Killing) has turned a little stale round the edges. But is it the return of the old series? Or is it, in fact, the start of something new?

Stream Borgen (S4) on Netflix.

This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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