I’ve fallen in love again. It happens every few years. Never let it be said I don’t have a type!
So who (apart from hubby) is the individual who can claim my heart (and the wide, fixed cheesy grin on my face) every time I see her smile?
Why, Sidse Babett Knudsen of course. You don’t recognise the name? Shame on you! But then neither did I until six weeks ago. Not until hubby suggested we give the Danish political drama, Borgen on BBC Four a go. Naturally (and perhaps predictably) I stuck my nose up at first. (As I recall it was in that purse-lipped, shrivelled up fashion where it looks as though I’ve just noticed the drains are up). Six weeks later and the fictional election and government of Birgitte Nyborg as Denmark’s first female Prime Minister (Statsminister), leading her Moderate Party into a centre-left coalition is in full swing. And I simply can’t get enough.
Borgen or The Castle is the nickname for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark’s branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.
On the one hand, Borgen is on a par with any other political serial; full of Machiavellian twists and turns, big bloated egos, double dealings and double bluffs all conducted with one hand outstretched and the other in the pocket of big money, big industry, big society, or all three by the time the denouement comes around. How can a somewhat naive, honest and underestimated middle-aged married mother of two hope to lead the government of one of the richest and most developed nations on Earth, when that government is only loosely held together by warring, disparate values, and, perhaps most crucially to the drama, the under-stated yet resounding strength of Nyborg’s own personality?
There’s that smile again!
Feeding off and into this big political bubble, where even the most casual nod, wink, whisper or half-truth gets magnified out of all earthly proportion sits a bloody-mouthed carnivorous media populated by its own bloated egos within its own bubble waiting, just waiting (and hoping) for Nyborg to slip up. Vested interests, hidden agendas, heroes, villains, diplomacy and conspiracy all play their part while all about, the randomness of current events swirls around the major players adding an edgy chaos to their professional and personal lives.
Borgen may very well be as one Youtube commentator put it,
“An amazing series from empowered Scandinavia (and) a great advertisement campaign for ‘enlightened’ gynarchy, where men quite simply aren’t good enough to lead.”
Or to put it another way,
“Manginas will really and truly and absolutely dig this show. Its the kind of stuff that sends rad-feminazis and their neutered male poodles, into wet-dream induced paroxysms.”
(Perhaps I’m to be found in there somewhere?)
But on the other hand, Borgen has something very different to offer. How many serial dramas have you seen that offer an insight into Denmark’s political, cultural and social relationship with Greenland; a former Danish colony from 1814 ultimately self-governing from 2009 (albeit with a hefty annual subsidy totalling DKK 3.4 billion)? How often do we merely concern ourselves with endless analyses of relationships within our own small corner of the planet, whether it be Anglo-Irish historical enmity, the Entente cordiale with our nearest continental neighbour, or the perpetual West Lothian Question. How refreshing therefore to be exposed to another perspective on a world view that is by no means alien to us, that of continuing, evolving colonial legacy.
It was, I suppose inevitable that I fall for her. Just like Battlestar Galactica’s President Laura Roslin before her (epically portrayed by Mary McDonnell), Statsminister Nyborg has a whole heap of Janeway qualities and mannerisms; authoritative, intelligent and feminine, with an icy death stare that could shrivel even the most obdurate, egotistical set of testicles. Oh and if you’re wondering what a Janeway is, don’t bother coming round here anymore, ever.
So similar are all three fictional characters – Nyborg, Roslin and Janeway, I can’t help but consider what it is about these women that attracts me and drives me so completely to distraction. They are, of course all women of a certain age, they are all queen bees. They are also highly principled and infuriatingly stubborn. Consequently each becomes completely immovable after a certain point in the plot is reached. One could say they are all self-sacrificing to a certain degree, but not to the extent they become victims. Granted, there may sometimes be a whiff of martyrdom on the air, mixing effortlessly with the scent of hand cream and ultra-hold hair mousse, but the concept is light, feathery and ethereal enough to disappear long before you get the chance to consider it for too long. In their shadier moments, it is also probably true to say each is capable of using subterfuge and of exploiting other people’s weaknesses. But it is done only ever in pursuit of the worthiest of goals, and always without compromising the aforementioned principles, of which there can never, ever be any deviation. The ends certainly do not always justify the means, and you’d be ill-advised to second-guess.
And then of course as far as Borgen and Sidse Babett Knudsen is concerned, there’s the language…
It’s a curious thing to become so used to hearing an actress speak in her native Danish tongue (while hastily soaking up the subtitles), that when she suddenly launches into speaking fluent, unfettered English and the subtitles cease, it’s my mother tongue that suddenly sounds very odd. In a strange way, it takes time for my ear to acclimatise to English again, despite the fact it’s the language I live with. It really is the darnedest thing. Needless to say without the subtitles I wouldn’t be able to understand anything save for a few words she or anybody else said. But it’s my lack of comprehension that adds gravitas to her voice, it adds mystery. It colours my perception of the character too. So then, upon hearing English spoken so effortlessly and without warning, Statsminister Nyborg is suddenly somewhat softer – the peaks, troughs and intonation of her sentences are no longer mysterious. She appears less opaquely political and more vulnerable. Dare I say it, more (classically) feminine.
Perhaps that is ultimately why Borgen and Birgitte Nyborg inhabited by Knudsen tick my boxes so fully? Strip away the 21st century European politics and what you have left is a woman revealing intelligently, yet softly what it means to be, a woman.
What is there not to love?