Nothing like a Dane: New thriller Borgen centres on a trailblazing female politician

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Move over, Sarah Lund, says Gerard Gilbert

Who, just 12 months ago, would have predicted that some of us would have become so familiar with Denmark's pool of top actors? That's not to patronise Denmark in any way – it's just that for obvious linguistic reasons, we haven't as a nation been terribly conversant with the Danish acting community. However, the first two series of The Killing have introduced us to many of their leading lights – not only, of course, to Sofie Grabol, who is now an unlikely household name in Britain (well, in the 500,000 households that regularly tune in to the Copenhagen-set thriller), but also to a wide range of new faces who had hitherto been the preserve of Danish viewers or those with a special interest in Scandinavian film and television.

I realised just how au fait I was becoming with Denmark's thespian stock when previewing Borgen, a new political thriller from the same network, DR, that made The Killing, only to discover the actors who played Lund's ex-police partners, Soren Malling and Mikael Birkkjaer, in new roles. Malling, Jan Meyer in the first series, here plays a television news director, while Birkkjaer, Lund's partner, Ulrik Strange, in The Killing II, is now the husband of Borgen's central protagonist, a moderate politician who wins a surprise election victory to become the first female prime minister of Denmark.

But Borgen revolves around Birgitte Nyborg – this year's Sarah Lund. Despite her busy political career, Nyborg (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen), tries to spend as much time with her family as possible and worries that she looks too fat in a new dress. So far, so unlike Lund, who I think I only ever once saw in a dress – at her mother's wedding in The Killing II. However, Nyborg does share a dogged integrity with the heroine of The Killing that is going to make for some compelling television over the next five weeks (BBC4 is again showing its Danish drama in two-hour double-bills).

Opening with a quote from Machiavelli's The Prince, Borgen (meaning castle or fortress, and the Danish term for their parliament) begins its story three days before a general election in which Nyborg's centrist party seems to be falling victim to deal-making between the left and right-wing politicians. It's a tale of mainstream parties making uneasy alliances with smaller, more extremist groups – a tale that will be familiar to fans of The Killing, both series of which were as much political thriller as police procedural.

Nyborg and Lund are very different creatures in many ways – socially, emotionally and probably politically (we have no idea, of course, about Lund's political leanings, if any). But the women do share one important characteristic – their sex. Both The Killing and Borgen brim with strong female characters that, if nothing else, export the impression that Danish society is a lot more equal than most.

In The Killing, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen delivered one of the most sustained and convincing portrayals of grief that I can remember seeing as Pernille Birk Larsen, the victim's mother, while the iron hand inside the velvet glove of Copenhagen politician Troels Hartmann was provided by his political adviser and lover Rie Skovgaard (Marie Askehave), the character who was one of my prime suspects for most of the 20 episodes.

And in The Killing II we had Lotte Andersen as Ruth Hedeby, Brix's superior; Stine Praetorius as Louise Raben, a colonel's daughter and wife of the fugitive soldier Jens; and Charlotte Guldberg as Karina Munk Jorgensen, the justice ministry civil servant who always managed to turn up evidence at vital moments in the story.

In Borgen, apart from Nyborg, strong female characters include Brigitte Hjort Sorensen as Katrine, an ambitious television journalist given the job of conducting the eve-of-poll interviews with the party leaders, while Katrine's boss, the formidable Hanne, is played by the veteran actress Benedikte Hansen, who was (you've guessed it) in The Killing II.

But if Borgen belongs to anybody it's to Sidse Babett Knudsen, the 43-year-old actress born in the same year as Sofie Grabol – and like Grabol, moving fluidly between theatre, film and television in her native Denmark. She was deeply involved in experimental theatre until 1997, when an improvised comedy, Let's Get Lost, propelled her into the mainstream, one critic describing her as having a "special ability to capture the modern woman's uncertainty and strength".

She makes an appealing presence, and Knudsen will be with us for some time: a second series of Borgen has recently finished airing in Denmark, and a third is due to start filming in Copenhagen this spring.

Meanwhile NBC is busy developing an American remake with the Friday Night Lights executive producer, David Hudgins, on writing duties, and co-production by BBC Worldwide. The idea is for it to be a successor to The West Wing. But those who prefer their Nordic TV drama in its pure state should also look out for The Bridge, a 10-part Danish/Swedish co-production in which the corpse of a murder victim is found halfway across the Oresund Bridge, which links Copenhagen with Malmo in Sweden. This bridge also featured briefly in The Killing II – and there is a programme to be made (for BBC4, natch) that illustrates all the connections that are unfolding during our increasing exposure to Danish television.

Did you know, for example, that Mikael Birkkjaer – Lund's near-lover and nemesis in The Killing II – co-starred with Sofie Grabol in the 2004 film Aftermath, in which they played a young married couple dealing with the death of their only daughter? Or that Adam Price, who created Borgen, was also one of the writers on Nikolaj og Julie, a sort of Danish Cold Feet that starred... Sofie Grabol?

These connections are probably no more than you'd find on British TV, but they are somehow more charming. Expect any day soon a Mastermind contestant to be answering specialist questions on Danish television drama of the 21st century. Here's a sample question for interested Dane-heads: In The Killing what did the apartment used by Troels Hartmann have to do with the murder of Nanna Birk Larsen? I still haven't worked that one out.

'Borgen' starts on Saturday at 9pm on BBC4

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before