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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum