Last night in the pub, I overheard a conversation about Borgen. (Yes, honestly!) Roughly paraphrased, it went thus: why can’t there be more lovely people like Birgitte Nyborg running the country? It struck a note that I’ve been considering as I play with my own Borgen magnum opus.
For much of the first two series, Birgitte tries hard to do what she thinks is right. She stands up for idealism (when she isn’t suggesting to her husband that they lead a double life). She doesn’t mind changing her mind when presented with new evidence (and when outmanoeuvred by Lars Hesselboe). She likes loyalty (as long as she doesn’t have to spend political capital on it). She likes to inspire her nation and remind it that it’s better than it thinks it is. She doesn’t like underhand methods (except when she’s trying to blackmail people).
I’ve been a bit unkind in the last paragraph: the fact is that Birgitte’s character has caught the imagination of millions of viewers because, despite the pressures of realpolitik, she does aspire to keep her values, and the compromises she accepts are the necessary price of the business in which she operates. But the one thing I’m struggling with is why she’s there in the first place.
Look at the other main politicians in Borgen, and you can imagine what got them into politics. Bjorn Marrot struggles to raise the living standards of manual workers. For Höx it’s a family tradition. Laugesen wants power, and he doesn’t care whether it’s as prime minister or Ekspres editor. 1950s throwback Jacob Kruse, the odious Pernille Madsen and even perhaps Thorsen are greasy-pole machine politicians. Svend Age is a classic protest politician and even the old warhorse Bent still can’t get enough of the game of politics. But that doesn’t make sense for Birgitte, part of whose appeal is that she doesn’t actually seem like a politician at all. She wants to build a better world but could have done so in lots of other fields of work.
The best back story I can come up with is that during one of Philip’s spells in business, Birgitte started playing about with the Moderates. She had a knack for politics, rose within the party and became leader. Under this scenario, Birgitte is an accidental politician.
Now all of the above rather begs the question. I should say at this point that there are already lovely people in politics. I can think of great people I have met in each of the three main parties (and rotten people in each party too).
But that slightly misses the point. If Birgitte’s charm is that she’s unpoliticiany (I bet there is a German word for this), and we want more of this kind of person, then to say her presence is an accident doesn’t really help us.
What do you think? Is there a better back story? Or does it even really matter? Some people in my local (including me) would really like to know.
Thanks Lizzie (and everyone else who has commented or would like to do so). You’re right, it’s possible to just ’emerge’ – and doesn’t the popularity of the Mayor of London and Nigel Farage show that the anti-politician always does well. Not that either of them are exactly what we would think of as a British Birgitte! Perhaps I’ve just been trying to find a model by which we get lots of Birgittes in British politics – though let’s not forget that in the UK we have tonnes of politicians who came into it to build what they see as a better world (whether we might agree with them or not!)
I think the question you should be asking is: why shouldn’t she be in politics, and why is anybody in politics? There are endless answers to this. She obviously chose politics at an earlier point in her life – possibly after her degree – and whilst you indirectly mention that she doesn’t have the trademark characteristics of what some people may deem a good politician, it is therefore obvious that her difference sets her apart. She obviously feels passionate about politics and is a respected leader of the moderate party. She also hopes to make a difference like many other politicians and learns how hard this can be because doesn’t everyone want change?
Moreover, every single day of her in-office experience is a learning curve and as the series progresses she finally seems to be getting it, therefore the realisation of what it means to be the PM (not just a politician) is quite shocking to her, based on her personal belief system.
I think that once Season 3 hits the UK, you may be able to answer this question or contemplate it further. However, I think one of the great things about Borgen is that we have very little backstory on the characters lives. Therefore, there is room for speculation and it doesn’t become a deterrent. If we knew what Birgitte was like before we would judge the present day version of herself based on these assumptions.
You’ve got to love Twitter and the bunch of Borgenistas – the comments keep coming from a fine crew of very knowledgeable fans. Here’s a mashup of tweets from @katemond, last seen with Sidse in Edinburgh:
‘Think the reason she’s so loved by viewers (inc strangers in pub) is BECAUSE she hasn’t got a political vendetta. Those are fine for minor characters needed to push a plot, but you can’t get an entire audience behind a character who’s blinkered. Also it’s pretty clear that she’s strongly idealistic and wants to change the world, and she loves political machinations…Sure she could change the world in other fields, but none would give her the challenge of politics’
And @djdebster adds: I think Danes are politically minded as a nation, she cares and has a brain on her, so not unusual she would be involved
There have been a couple of responses on Twitter – both from people who have MET Sidse in real life (wow! reflected glory!):
@weeladybird1981: Birgitte has a degree in political science. So prob didnt just fall into it
@llanber68: Had similar thoughts, though by the end of S2 she really does seem to be a true politician with some good traits.
Reblogged this on euro but not trash.