Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
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.