A clue for RTÉ in Danish drama series
The uncannily true-to-life storyline of Danish political drama ‘Borgen’ is the talk of Denmark and the toast of international television, so why can’t RTÉ make a series with a similar impact in Ireland?
IT’S THE KIND of storyline familiar to fans of Borgen, the acclaimed Danish political drama series. The country’s first female prime minister faces controversy over the tax affairs of her husband, the son of a famous British politician, after details were leaked by a rival spin doctor. As the scandal grows, the gossip becomes more personal, with the Danish premier forced to publicly deny rumours that her husband is gay.
This story, however, does not involve Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, Borgen’s fictional political leader, but rather Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s real-life prime minister, and her husband, Stephen Kinnock, the son of former UK Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Life has apparently been imitating art in Denmark of late, to the point that Borgen’s screenwriter Jeppe Gjervig Gram has appeared on national news programmes to comment on the affair.
“It’s incredible,” says Gram, who appeared at the Mountains to Sea book festival in Dún Laoghaire earlier this month. “It’s almost too big a drama, almost too soapy. I think if we tried to write this story for the series, we would think it was too unbelievable.”
Nevertheless, that screenwriters are discussing political matters on the news is testament to the huge impact of Danish television drama in recent years.
“It’s actually quite hilarious,” says Nadia Kløvedal Reich, head of fiction at Danish state network DR. “When politicians here are trying to explain matters now, they make reference to Borgen.” It’s hard to imagine Fair City having the same cachet in Ireland.
Danish TV serials have been making waves internationally, too, creating a splash that belies the country’s small scale. Since crime series The Killing – or Forbrydelsen, to use its original title – was first screened in 2007, the Scandinavian nation’s reputation as a producer of gripping, multilayered tales for TV has soared. The Killing’s fiercely driven, chunky-jumper-wearing heroine Sarah Lund, played by Sofie Gråbøl, has become a cult figure over the course of two stunning seasons, screened last year on BBC4, while the show has undergone an American remake, albeit with mixed results.
In The Killing’s wake came Borgen, which followed the efforts of its prime ministerial protagonist (Sidse Babett Knudsen) to juggle her political struggles with her domestic life. Danish drama’s high standing was most recently underscored by The Bridge, a crime thriller co-produced by DR and Swedish network SVT, which played on the cultural differences between the two countries.
The success of these shows is all the more remarkable given the country’s size. Denmark has a population of only 5.5 million, yet the state network has established itself as a producer of long-form dramas that are consistently popular at home while appealing abroad. Does its example hold any lessons for Irish television? RTÉ, in particular, serves a comparably sized market of 4.5 million inhabitants, yet it has yet to produce a series with a comparable impact.