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TV Review: Borgen, What Is Lost Inwardly Must Be Gained Outwardly

Tom Leece is Film and TV editor at Fourth & Main

If The Dirty Dozen had been a film about fewer than twelve diplomats visiting Africa to broker a peace between warring nations it might have looked a little like Borgen did this weekend. Assembling her crack team at short notice for a daring piece of foreign policy, Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen) recruits a bearded veteran with a few tricks left up his sleeve and a rebellious sceptic with a crucial skill set.

The mission they choose to accept, with Birgitte’s support base in need of a boost, entails a resolution of the conflict between the fictional nations of North and South Kharun. It’s the brainchild of business tycoon Joachim Crohne (Ulf Pilgaard), which can only ever be a bad thing, but Birgitte soon realises that humanitarian brownie points will raise Denmark’s profile higher than a hundred seasons of The Killing ever could, saving her coalition and salving her conscience in the process. While Kasper (Pilou Asbæk) seems content to flirt with Katrine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), the prime minister sets off accompanied by old colleagues Bent Sejrø (Lars Knutzon) and Amir Diwan (Dar Salim) to spread peace on earth.

Those pausing iPlayer in curiosity may note that the delegation’s destinations occupy a similar area to Sudan and South Sudan and, would you believe it, North and South Kharun are respectively Islamic and Christian. It’s doubtful however that Borgen will win prizes for the year’s most nuanced portrayal of African politics. War crimes, intrigue over oil, entrenched homophobia, corruption and Kasper’s “people who once fought each other with machetes” remark wouldn’t do much for the Kharunese tourist board, were it to exist. The even-handedness of Birgitte’s first season trip to Greenland seemed a dim memory.

At least the statesmen Birgitte encounters were no more conniving than Borgen’s homegrown politicians. Omar Al-Jahwar (Abdi Gouhad) of the northern nation is a scheming intellectual wanted by The Hague, while his rival Jakob Lokoya (Femi Elufowoju Jr.) smiles as he announces that “there are no homosexuals in South Kharun.” With Katrine and Hanne (Benedikte Hansen) investigating corruption in the region’s oil industry and Laura (Freja Riemann) flushing her antidepressants down the toilet at home, everything looks set for a catastrophic collapse. As it is, although Birgitte’s linguistic arsenal fails to include Mandarin and Laura’s problems are deadly serious, there was reconciliation and harmony all round.

Katrine and Kasper dodge a series of arguments; Amir acquits himself and Bent is hailed a hero. There is even a montage to demonstrate just how damn efficient the Danes are at solving crises. But despite the double bill, two of the plotlines never seemed to be resolved. First there was Jakob Lokoya’s cheery homophobia, penned perhaps with closeted Foreign Secretary Troels Höxenhaven in mind only for the writers to remember that they’d killed him off in the fourth episode.

The second involved the bloodstained businessman who, after being pursued by two of the brightest journalistic minds in the history of Danish drama, fobbed them off with a ring binder and their dullest scoop ever. Both threads were presumably an insight into the compromises necessary when bringing peace to hostile nations, but amid all the hugging and back-slapping it raised the possibility that predominantly bleak Borgen is more provocative than its happier doppelganger. That said, there was a return to form at the episode’s end, laying out Birgitte’s dilemma for the season’s final episodes.

Best scene:

On the way back at sunset from their meeting with Jakob Lokoya, guitar twanging thoughtfully on the soundtrack, Bent and Birgitte mull over the imperfect deal they’ve cut.

Best line:

“For once, we can be proud of our prime minister here in little Denmark.” (Torben Friis). A positive end to the week for the state broadcaster’s foremost and most miserable political analyst.

Handy Danish vocab:

The elusive monarch got several further mentions on Borgen; even if Denmark’s “dronning” (“queen”) didn’t play bridge with Joachim Crohne, the fictional version of the reigning Margrethe II did enjoy dinner with Birgitte.

Magnus Watch:

With his natural talent for sleuthing the proto-Wallander worked out his big sister’s secret in no time. A junior private eye spin-off is surely in the works – Magnus (Emil Poulsen) could even pair up with Sarah Lund’s grandchild, when it comes of age.