A very Danish coup

Written by Caroline Crampton on 18 October 2012 in Culture
Caroline Crampton dissects the anatomy of successful Danish TV drama Borgen

Everyone involved in the making of Borgen – from its all-male writing team, to Morten Hesseldahl, cultural director of DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, to its star, Sidse Babett Knudsen – has expressed their surprise and delight that their programme has achieved success and acclaim outside Denmark. Hesseldahl perhaps put it best when he voiced his concern that what many thought was just a parochial political drama was “too Danish to travel”.
In fact, Borgen is too Danish not to have attracted an international audience. The kind of politics it portrays – collegiate, consensual, egalitarian yet still passionate – appeals to the UK audience precisely because it is unusual to us. For its UK fans, it is aspirational, an exercise in wish-fulfillment, because it is everything we don’t have. And in one respect, above all others, we love it because it has the ultimate unobtainable asset: a strong female leader who dominates by being cleverer, more proficient and more focused than the men who surround her, but who cannot be brushed off as a strident harridan.
The moment I fell irrevocably in love with Borgen’s soon-to-be ‘statsminister’ Birgitte Nyborg was when, at the end of a long election campaign, she’s getting dressed to go out and kick ass on a TV debate. Her usual smart TV dress won’t quite do up (political campaigns, as everyone who’s ever been near one knows, are heavy on the waistline) and she’s worrying that she looks fat. Her husband appears and presents her with the thoughtful gifts of a new outfit and reassurance about her professional appearance. Women (and a good many men, I suspect) identified with Birgitte’s problem, envied her apparent domestic bliss and immediately invested in the programme. What more could you ask from a drama’s debut?
While equality in UK politics has come a long way in the past decades, there’s still no commonly trodden path for women to follow towards leadership. Female politicians must forge their own way, defining themselves against the grey-suited masses of their mainstream male counterparts if they are to get ahead. 
We adore Birgitte and what she’s able to achieve, forgetting that it’s only possible because she has a completely egalitarian framework within which to operate.
Fun as it is to watch her cycling around Copenhagen and fighting with opponents about motorway construction, the fact that we enjoy it so much is rather alarming.
We’re so far from producing a British Birgitte that we’re more content to sublimate our desire for female leadership in a fictional presentation of another country’s political system than even pretend to imagine it could happen here.

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