movie film review | chris tookey

Borgen (TV)

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  Borgen (TV) Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
9.56 /10
Sidse Babett Knudsen , Birgitte Hjort Sorensen , Soren Malling
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Directed by: Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, Louise Friedberg, Jesper W. Nielsen, Mikkel Norgaard, Annette K. Olesen, Rumle Hammerich, Jannik Johansen, Henrik Ruben Genz,Charlotte Sieling
Written by: Adam Price, Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Tobias Lindholm, Maja Jul Larsen, Jannik Tai Mosholt, Maren Louise Kaehne. Created by Adam Price and Jeppe Gjervig Gram

Released: 2010
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: Denmark
Length: 0

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Borgen is no conventional soap opera. It's essentially a drama about political negotiation, alliances, compromises and principles. It is very odd to see a political drama about a principled politician, but it never overreaches into Aaron Sorkin-level prissiness, preachiness and obviousness. Around Birgitte is the usual cast of political operatives. The spin doctor, the media adviser, the up-and-comer who will do anything to get ahead, the person who is afraid of change or the one who doesn't want compromise. They all have to deal with issues such as a new pension plan. And from this material an utterly compelling narrative is delivered. It's not easy to put a finger on its greatness. It's about pace, rhythm, tone – and assuming patience from the viewer. Like Chris Haddock's great Da Vinci's City Hall, about city politics in Vancouver, Borgen strips away unnecessary melodrama, diminishes theatrical flourish and in being quietly dramatic makes it even harder to stop watching. We're watching people use their brains, not flaunt their looks in Borgen – and while that can be unsettlingly unfamiliar to some viewers, it's magnificently different.
(John Doyle, Toronto Globe and Mail)
It is remarkable how much suspense and psychological drama the show squeezes out of cabinet shuffles and health-care-reform bills in a small Scandinavian nation (population: nearly 5.6 million). Ruling coalitions are slim, fragile and challenged almost weekly, and the battle to stay in office can turn as conspiratorial and ruthless as any Borgia power struggle. (Every episode opens with a quote, and while some are from Churchill, most are from Machiavelli.)... It’s a psychologically astute show in which characters evolve in ways that can be surprising but are always internally consistent. Birgitte is a charming, idealistic politician with a hidden vein of pragmatism and cunning. Kasper is a womanizer and a slick, even slimy campaign operative, but he is his best self in the dirty world of politics, a fiercely dedicated and loyal aide who intuits Birgitte’s needs, fixes problems and doesn’t make a fuss or ask annoying questions... Not unlike its depiction of politics, Borgen provides a bleak assessment of the female condition that is also sympathetic and layered, with occasional glints of bone-dry humor. The image of women in power isn’t always cheering, but it is respectful — Birgitte and her ilk don’t indulge in the usual catfights or All About Eve rivalries that fuel so many dynamics on television. There is sexism, even in Denmark, but the women of Borgen don’t play into easy stereotypes and neither do the men they rely on.
(Alessandra Stanley, New York Times)
You could do worse than to put on your coziest socks and vicariously enjoy a political sphere that seems almost magically more refined than ours — one where everybody works at standing desks, government ministers bicycle to work, lovers snuggle under puffy eiderdowns and fresh fruit rests in artfully shaped glass bowls.
(Al Hoff, Pittsburgh City Paper)
Borgen is a lesson built on the old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely – but Birgitte is the head of a shaky coalition government in a European social democracy, not a tyrant, and what keeps us watching is the knowledge that she always has good intentions... This show isn’t a creation of immense style or heart-stopping suspense; it’s more about straightforward but subtle dramatic urgency, and you need to give it a little time to build cumulative force. Watch at least the first two episodes (both directed by veteran Danish filmmaker Soren Kragh-Jacobsen) and you won’t be able to stop.
(Andrew O’Hehir, Salon)
Borgen is about how political power changes a woman who is recognizably normal, if, thanks to Knudsen, abnormally charismatic... Though Borgen was influenced by The West Wing (Nyborg, like Josiah Bartlet, has a knack for giving the honest speech), it makes The West Wing look sentimental, and not because Borgen has some ultra-dark view of politics... Borgen feels grounded. It is not puffed up with an American sense of grandiosity and world historical import. Each episode contains intricate twists and turns, but is focused on the human-size, psychological aspects of politics, of how Nyborg learns to be effective and at what cost. The cost ends up being high. Nyborg is decent, well-meaning, sexy, funny, steely. (I dare you to watch her and not develop a crush.
(Willa Paskin, Salon)
This isn’t just a show about a ”strong female character.“ Nyborg is formidable, but she’s also very multi-dimensionally human. This is true of almost all the characters in Borgen, save one slimy politician-turned-tabloid editor. But all of Borgen’s heroes have flaws and dents. And all of its villains have moments of grace. Much more so than you would even find on The West Wing
(Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair)
I'm not sure I've ever seen a show that's better at capturing the personal cost of political life. For Birgitte, power doesn't so much corrupt as isolate. The more successful she becomes as PM, the more her private world dwindles. Her circle of friends shrinks, her children feel neglected, and her marriage to the funny, liberal-minded Philip — a onetime CEO who's put his career on hold — starts to founder. Losing her knack for intimacy, she begins talking to him like a prime minister making points in a cabinet meeting. Now, I realize that the thought of a Danish cabinet meeting may not exactly make your mouth water. But believe me, the show has plenty to grip an American viewer. For starters, it gives a keen glimpse at how the Danes view us. They're pro-American, yet as a small country they are often resentful at the way the U.S. can act like the 800-pound gorilla — as when the CIA secretly uses a Danish base for illegal rendition. Beyond this, the issues Birgitte confronts each week are the same ones we face — how to manage immigration, how to assure both security and privacy, how to keep a social safety net in a world where one's rising economic competitors cut costs by not having one. In tackling such issues, Birgitte is clearly an idealized figure, yet Borgen makes it clear that even a virtuous politician can't be as decent as she'd like. Birgitte backs proposals she doesn't quite believe in to enact bigger policies that she does. She works with ministers she'd like to fire but keeps on because it would cost her too much to can them. And, she's loyal to her old friends ... until she has to sacrifice them when they've become a liability. The show doesn't fault her for this. Quite the contrary. Borgen reminds us what it's easy to forget in these polarized times — that no political decision is ever pure or simple, and that it's childish to think otherwise.
(John Powers, NPR)
Borgen is a rare gem of a show, one that is as smart as it is entertaining, that grows richer with each passing episode and rewards viewers with exciting, thought-provoking drama. It provides a unique insight not only into local politics but world politics as well, all from a perspective that is refreshingly non-American. Many of problems facing Nyborg in Denmark will be more than familiar to audiences here, so too will the political jousting, the black glove maneuvers and flashes of humanism in a game that doesn’t reward heart. If you’re looking for your next binge-ready show to marathon with, Borgen will fit the bill and then some.
(Kevin Jagernauth, Indiewire)
As in the best political drama, the issues are secondary to the people. Fortunately, there are issues at play here — a marked contrast with the current crop of American political dramas (like Boss) — but what we’re really seeing here is how the show’s main characters sort of feel each other out and swirl around each other. The first episode is enormously confident in its storytelling ability... If I have an issue with this first episode, it’s that too much of the storytelling is driven by coincidence
(Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club)
There is nothing the U.S. of A. is prouder of inventing than modern democracy, except for maybe television. Either way, television about modern democracy should be our forte. And so it pains me to report that the Danes, of all people, have recently overcome America’s home-field advantage. The Best Political Show Ever no longer hails from Hollywood, birthplace of The West Wing. It comes, instead, from Copenhagen, and it is called Borgen... Ultimately, Borgen is a show about compromise: not just the compromises politicians make in pursuit of power, but the compromises we all make, every day, and how these compromises, whether public or private, can’t help but change us.
(Andrew Romano, Newsweek)
The conclusion to each episode – certainly the themed ones – are unsurprisingly neat, but where West Wing tended to close the night with some feel-good sensibilities or a view that nobility has prevailed in some form, Borgen just reminds viewers of the wretchedness of politics: there is no pure soul within government - just opportunists with varying levels of decency - and while Nyborg may represent the perfect amalgam of a clever politician with scruples, she undergoes a ongoing transformation that’s internally ruinous, making Borgen a contemporary synthesis of classical tragedy.
(Mark R. Hasan,
Played by the radiant Sidse Babett Knudsen, Birgitte is not a cop or a serial killer. For some time, Scandinavian Cultural Imperialism depended on cops and serial killers, but there are only so many actors in Scandinavia, and it got to the point where actors who had played too many cops had to be switched to playing too many serial killers. Birgitte is a politician. Her mere existence – well, her mere fictional existence – is enough to suggest that the business of governing a small Scandinavian country must be madly exciting. You don’t need a new corpse every week and a glum female cop with a frumpish sweater and a frown. All you need is Birgitte and her brains; Katrine and her thrilling teeth; Kasper and his incredible disappearing and reappearing beard. If you’ve got all that, and all the endlessly ravelled problems of liberal democracy, you’ve got a show.
(Clive James, Daily Telegraph)
TV political dramas fall into two categories: the drunk-on-democracy idealism exemplified by The West Wing and the machiavellian machinations of The Thick of It. It was always the latter which seemed to appeal most to British audiences, until Borgen came along – a show as optimistic, yet unsentimental, as its clear-eyed heroine, Birgitte.
(Ellen E. Jones, Independent, on series 1)
This show is top-class political drama, a badge of middle-class belonging and, for the British, also a kind of utopian sci-fi fantasy. Just imagine: a truly gender-equal society where men and women share childcare, women hold as many positions of power in politics and media as men, and everyone achieves an enviable work-life balance.
(Ellen E. Jones, Independent, on series 2)
I'm a big fan of the series, but it probably helps that I'm the only British politician (I was an MP for 13 years) who grew up in Denmark... The multi-party negotiations are entirely plausible - that's how Danish politics works, and there are parties that switch allies from time to time. The balance between idealism and scheming is also really well done - most British and American movies and TV series portray all politicians as ruthless power-mongers, but generally politicians like to think they're doing the right thing, just like anyone else. The character are recognisable types - in particular, the far-right leader is clearly modelled on Mogens Glistrup, the entertaining, folksy and erratic founder of the current Progress Party. The series is maybe a bit weaker on the big political issues, since it has to tackle something complex in an hour, and an issue like Afghanistan can't really be analysed in any depth in that time. The episode on a thinly-veiled Sudan with the smooth, corrupt Northern leader and the plausible Southern leader with some uncomfortable views is gripping but stereotyped. But it works brilliantly with smaller issues, especially those that interweave with the private lives of the protagonists. Above all, it creates sympathetic yet flawed political figures with a non-political private life, so much more like real politicians than the one-dimensional figures that the media try to make us.
(Nick Palmer, User Reviews, IMDb)

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