Borgen: Power & Glory review: As compulsive viewing as ever
Sidse Babett Knudsen10
Helen Archer | On 05, Jun 2022
Never seen the original Borgen? Read our review, plus where you can watch it online.
When Borgen first hit UK screens in 2012, it was a surprising success. Coming as it did hot on the heels of Nordic noir, we were already pumped for anything remotely Scandinavian. But, unlike The Killing, The Bridge et al, Borgen focussed on political intrigue rather than murders. While it seemed on paper a little dry, it was lit up by wonderful performances, well-rounded characters, and the pacing – if not the plot – of a thriller.
Those first three seasons, screened here from 2010-2013, tracked Brigitte Nyborg’s path to the premiership, and viewers were entranced with her ability to navigate tricky political situations with grace and aplomb, compromising without ever surrendering her core values. It was, of course, a different time, one where perhaps we were more prone to optimism within the political sphere, when change for the better seemed possible, and moderate politics were something we aspired to.
Almost a decade on, Nyborg is no longer juggling her career and her family. As her children have grown up and flown the coop – and her ex-husband is in a new relationship and about to become a parent again – Birgitte is able to give her all to her post of Foreign Minister of a coalition government, working with, if perhaps not for, Prime Minister Signe Kragh (Johanne Louise Schmidt). At TV1, meanwhile, we find Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) taking up her new role as Head of News, while her young family is being looked after by her communist firebrand other half Søren Ravn (Lars Mikkelsen).
The overarching plot of the fourth season revolves around the discovery of a massive oil field in Greenland. The Danish government finds itself attempting to fend off interest from Russia, China and the United States, while also navigating the tricky situation of Greenland using the oil as leverage for its independence. In Denmark, there is pushback from within Nyborg’s party, who, with their green credentials, are up in arms at the notion of the exploitation of fossil fuels, especially in such an unspoilt area of natural beauty.
So far, so diplomatic nightmare. But Nyborg is also dealing with the onset of the menopause and its various physical and psychological ramifications. This is very much a Birgitte who is struggling – shouting at her staff, taking advice from dubious sources, drinking too much, napping on the job and barely eating. Her relationship with her son Magnus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen), an environmentalist who begins the season by emancipating some pigs destined for the abattoir, also becomes strained, deteriorating as the series goes on.
It is difficult to see such a beloved character struggling, but especially as she starts acting against character – a character so well-loved that her baffling U-turns become something of a betrayal, not just to her colleagues but also the viewer. But there are other sources of confusion. The Greenlandic characters are so sketchily drawn as to be insulting. Serious plot points remain unresolved and almost forgotten about. A suspicious death, which seems like it belongs in a different type of Scandi noir, makes it look like we’re going down one route, only for it to be dropped without fanfare or care. Season 4 can prove to be a frustrating watch for Borgen fans.
And yet, somehow, despite its failings, it remains as compulsive viewing as ever. The peripheral characters – Nyborg’s inner circle, along with many familiar faces in the TV1 newsroom – have believably delicate relationships; discussions about the pitfalls of power are nuanced even in their generality. There is subtle humour and warmth in the depictions of family and office politics. And, as ever, Sidse Babett Knudsen holds it all together with her portrayal of a woman navigating a seismic shift in both her personal and political life. While 10 years is a long time in politics, it’s almost as though Borgen has never been away.