Television: Danish politics, German war stories and Irish builders blowing the budget
‘Borgen’ returned, with the former prime minister making new starts amid familiar, nuanced themes
Political convictions: Sidse Babett Knudsen and Mikael Birkkjær in Borgen
There’s no goofing off on your phone while watching the brilliant Danish political drama Borgen (BBC Four, Saturday). It’s not just the subtitles, although if you miss one you could, unless your Danish extends beyond hej and tak, miss the whole point of a scene. (Really, we should be nearly fluent by now, there are so many standout Danish imports.) It’s that so much ground had to be made up in the first episode of the third series.
Two and half years had passed since Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the most fully realised female TV character in recent years, had been ousted as prime minister at the end of the last series. And, as the writers work on the basis that viewers don’t need everything spelled out, short, snappy scenes filled in the gaps and ended with Nyborg ditching her postpolitics career on the lucrative corporate-speaking circuit and setting up her own party. As the leader of a coalition government, her political convictions were tested and compromised in the last two series, so a new party should give her a blank whiteboard; symbolically, it was her first purchase for her shabby headquarters.
Her new press secretary, the TV journalist Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), has had a baby, and the stress-filled scenes in which she tries to juggle her career with motherhood, such as the superbly nuanced bickering between her and her own mother, echo Nyborg’s struggles in the first two series. This theme is well thought through in Borgen.
Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk), a one-time spin doctor and the baby’s father, now sports a foppish hairdo and presents what looks like the most boring politics programme on television. He and the station’s head of news stand around a podium and discuss the events of the week. It’s really just a clunky device for the writers to explain the political background. The head of news, meanwhile, is struggling with a new boss, a slick young chap imported from cable TV, who is urging more good-news stories and less of the downbeat economic and political stuff. Borgen has already done the impossible by making coalition politics tense and intriguing. It just might do the same for the public-service broadcasting debate.
There is one curiosity, though: the sleeker, more fashion-conscious Nyborg has acquired a British boyfriend. He’s an architect, and a bit dull, but the real problem is that he speaks English and so does Nyborg – perfectly and without an accent – when she is with him. It’s most disconcerting. If you were a cynic – and Borgen is about politics in a small country, so it does encourage it – you’d wonder whether it has to do with the success of the Danish drama in English-speaking countries, in the same way that Downton Abbey is rather fond of introducing random American characters to appeal to a US audience.
The slot that was recently home to Love/Hate has been filled with the easy-going makeover programme Room to Improve (RTÉ One, Sunday). It’s as if everyone needed to calm down with some chat about carpets and curtains after all that inner-city violence. Presented by the architect Dermot Bannon, it has a set trajectory: the clients have a dream, the builder grumbles about nice-guy Bannon, it goes over budget but no one minds, and at the end there’s a party in the new open-plan kitchen where everyone admires the giant windows.