Borgen: Outside the Castle - The Week in Radio: appalled by a British Borgen that's an insult to women

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The Independent Culture

"Why?" I howled at 30-second intervals during Borgen: Outside the Castle, this week's wholly pointless spin-off of the Danish television series on Radio 4. Three episodes in and I'm still at a loss.

What were they thinking? In what desperate ideas meeting did some "creative" in preposterous glasses pipe up: "I know! Let's take a near-flawless television series with an exceptional balance of political intrigue and personal drama, and famed for its meaty female roles, and balls it up so royally that fans of the original show, who will be our core audience, will pack their bags and defect to Denmark."

I'll admit that I had approached Borgen: Outside the Castle (even the name is a disaster; they may as well have called it "Borgen: a Long Way from the Fun Stuff") with extreme caution. This is because the TV version has, over the past few years, proved that good drama doesn't necessarily depend on dead bodies, CGI and wall-to-wall humping.

It has shown that out of a tedious-sounding brief based on coalition politics in a small corner of northern Europe can emerge an unfeasibly compelling, richly textured and thoroughly grown-up thriller. It has illustrated how Scandinavia still has the freshest acting and writing talent in the world. So why mess with perfection?

It takes a certain amount of wisdom to take a show that has been lauded from the rooftops and sold to 72 countries and axe it after just three seasons, as the makers of Borgen have just done. It also takes some serious dimwittedness to piggyback said show with a low-rent, English-language radio version that's not fit to shine its shoes.

Borgen: Outside the Castle is in fact only sketchily related to Borgen, Sure, it is set in Denmark and makes reference to characters from the TV show, including Lars Hesselboe, still the incumbent Prime Minister; Birgitte Nyborg, rising through the ranks to supplant Hesselboe; and Michael Laugesen, Labour Party leader and soon-to-be newspaper editor. It also has the same music, which inadvertently underlines the radio version's deficiencies by transporting us straight to the corridors of Christiansborg, where under a week ago, we watched Birgitte secure Denmark's future.

But rather than focusing on those at the centre of power, it examined the Danish civil service where Tim Pigott-Smith's Hans Gammelgaard (the names of the protagonists are good, I'll give them that), private secretary in the Ministry of the Environment, was trying to rush through official approval for the controlled use of GM crops by Danish farmers.

Gammelgaard was also newly widowed – his wife, Eva, died from cancer – though this hadn't stopped him from throwing himself back into work and ignoring both the condolences of his colleagues, who were plotting to remove him from his job, and the attentions of his environmentally crusading grandson Nick who put forward such insightful arguments as: "Organics are a much better option." There was also a hard-drinking journalist who gets scoops by downing three bottles of red wine and murmuring: "I write what I write".

But my irritation at the dialogue was nothing next to the red-faced fury I felt at finding that the writers had honoured the original series, which made a point of placing smart and high-achieving women at the centre of the action, by relegating its female characters to the fringes, casting them as secretaries and anxious mothers.

Borgen: Outside the Castle was an ill-conceived mess, and no substitute for the original, the passing of which I shall be mourning for some time. As for a second season? Nej tak.