TV Review: Borgen, The Sanctity of Private Life

Tom Leece is Film and TV editor at Fourth & Main

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The Independent Culture

"Success is not final, failure is not final," proclaims Winston Churchill in Borgen's traditional opening epigraph, "it is the courage to go on that counts."

Passing the British Prime Minister’s rhetorical flourishes through English, Danish and English again may have dampened their power, but Borgen’s sound bites often reveal the difficulty of translating their seemingly sage advice into action. With Birgitte Nyborg's (Sidse Babett Knudsen) daughter suffering a mental breakdown, Churchill’s call to continue regardless comes across as somewhat inadequate.

Birgitte is instead determined to secure the best possible treatment for Laura (Freja Riemann), but hasn’t counted on Borgen’s knack for fateful coincidences. It just so happens that the prime minister is in the crucial stages of dismantling the previous government’s privatised healthcare system. When it emerges that there is a waiting time of fifty weeks for a psychiatrist to help her daughter, Birgitte balks. Private healthcare now looks like a much better idea; there’s a 100,000-kroner a year hospital called Liseholm where the grounds are full of delighted patients on the mend, and it’s perfect for Laura.

The best bet would have been to arrange a few sessions on the cheap with Kasper (Pilou Asbæk), who in the episode’s more touching scenes reaches out to Laura and lets her know she isn’t alone. It turns out the spin doctor spent time in a mental hospital himself, and is more willing to talk about his past now that he is safely ensconced in Borgen’s most loved-up relationship.

In the hour’s lighter plotline, Kasper and Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) take steps towards bringing their liaison out into the open. There’s still the odd secret; Kasper is hobbling around with torn ligaments and determined to keep the injury out of the news. “I’m not going to hand Expres the ‘Ministry On Crutches’ headline”, he says. Little does he know that tabloid editor Michael Laugesen (Peter Mygind) has another targets in his sights.

Back with a vengeance and determined to stick the boot into Birgitte, Laugesen zeroes in on Laura and the costly private hospital, even providing a dictionary definition of “hypocrisy” to his readers to hammer home Birgitte’s perfidy. Soon he has filled the hospital grounds with photographers and reporters, and the full throttle media circus is shown to be a lurid and unforgiving thing. At one point we are treated to an eerie shot of paparazzi moving through the tall grass like zombies, camera shutters clicking away. The wolfish Laugesen denies any wrongdoing of course, taking to his video editorials to read out the hospital’s sumptuous menu choices with a gourmand’s relish.

“Who benefits from it?” Birgitte laments. “Who reads it?” It may be hyper-sensationalised but the media’s interest in the Nyborg family makes its point. Birgitte’s political position has dragged her private life through the muck before, and on that occasion the prime minister played to the media’s tune. This time around, desperate not to lose Laura the way she lost Phillip (Mikael Birkkjær), she appears to have learned a lesson.

It raises the possibility that where the first season finale saw the disintegration of the family, the second season’s could see steps towards its rejuvenation. Borgen has always dwelt on the balance between the benefits of public office and its impact upon private life, and to stop the debate growing stagnant there has to be a tipping point. Birgitte may have found hers.

Best scene:

TV1 news anchor Ulrik (Thomas Levin) is a slippery character – and almost certainly dobbed in Hanne Holm for alcoholism in the first season – but here he redeemed himself by taking Laugesen down a peg, live on air.

Best line:

“Don’t play sports, Kasper. You’re not cut out for them.” (Birgitte). An otherwise indecipherable plot decision, Kasper’s crutches had comic relief written all over them.

Handy Danish vocab:

Laugesen’s lessons in language gave us “hykleri” (“hypocrisy”) but it seems a bleak addition to the phrasebook. There was a lot of affection in the air, so “jeg elsker dig” (“I love you”) might be a better option.

Magnus Watch:

Birgitte’s Bombay Sapphire binge in episode four landed her in hot water with her chauffeur, so it seems surprising that she didn’t pause for thought when Magnus (Emil Poulsen) asked to watch a programme called All About Wine.