Scotland politics

Denmark: Borgen wins votes around world

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Media captionAdam Price, creator of Borgen, says the secret to the show's success is the female lead character

Denmark is preparing to say goodbye to the popular political drama, Borgen. The third and final series is reaching its conclusion. Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is one of a host of real-life politicians who are fans of the show. But what is the secret of its success?

Politics is often full of drama, but TV drama is rarely about politics.

That is what makes Borgen so unusual.

The central plot is about a female politician who becomes Danish prime minister.

On the journey, she is torn between the demands of her high-powered job and the demands of family life.

According to Adam Price, the show's creator, that is key to its success.

Image caption Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen met Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month

"In the case of Borgen, it was very important that the prime minister was a woman," he told me. "That, from my point of view, would be the most painful thing to watch.

"I wanted to do a show about a person being challenged by the biggest job ever and what is that person willing to sacrifice."

The fictional Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg, who is played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, leads a coalition government. While her career succeeds, her marriage fails and her relationship with her children is tested.

Image caption Helle Thorning-Schmidt has become Denmark's first female prime minister

Mr Price believes the sacrifices real-life female politicians and business leaders need to make are greater than their male counterparts.

"They put such a strain on themselves because they want to be good at everything," he suggested. "They want to be multi-dimensional, god-like multi-tasking beings. I don't think men have ever been that ambitious."

Mr Price is the son of two successful parents, both of whom worked in the arts. He is also a TV chef.

We meet on the set of his cookery show. It doubles as his family kitchen.

He is one of a series of writers who have been encouraged and developed by the state broadcaster, DR.

Borgen is the latest in a series of international successes for the station. DR also produced The Killing and The Bridge, both of which have sold well internationally.

Writers are mentored by more experienced writers from their time as students at the national film school through to their first commission.

And the quality of the writing is key to recent triumphs, according to DR's head of fiction, Nadia Klovedal Reich.

"The secret is actually that the story is always the most important thing in what we do," she said.

Like the BBC, DR is publicly funded. Ms Reich says that allows the broadcaster to make programmes featuring subjects like coalition politics that may not appeal to more commercial broadcasters.

"When you are a commercial thinker, you will always go for the stuff you know works," she suggested. "I mean, Borgen was a risk. It turned out very nice, but it could have turned out in another place."

However, the show has also drawn criticism in Denmark.

Mr Price says it has been attacked for some of the policies its fictional characters have endorsed, despite an attempt to steer away from contemporary politics.

"We have taken great care to step back from real-life politics in Denmark," he admitted.

"A lot of politicians are entertained by the series. It is also flattering to have a series about your work.

"That said, we have had a lot of criticism at the same time. The show was criticised from the extreme right before it was aired the first time. DR were attacked for being red and, of course, the whole show was attacked for being biased."

Image caption The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen have created a Danish success story

When the show was first shown, Denmark had never had a female Prime Minister. That changed in September 2011, when Helle Thorning-Schmidt became head of government.

Mr Price does not believe the show played any role in her election, but he says there is some evidence of other politicians being influenced by Borgen's plots.

"We've actually had a few examples of debates erupting around topics that we deal with in the series," he recalled.

"Actually, there was a Conservative politician who wanted a new law put through in parliament because of what she saw in the series. That was actually a law about legalising prostitution here in Denmark."

Recent success has also increased the profile of Danish actors. Birgitte Hjort Sorensen plays political journalist Katrine Fonsmark in Borgen.

She says the international success of the show came as a surprise for the cast.

"Nobody thought it would have any sort of life outside of Denmark because it is about Danish politics," admitted Ms Sorensen.

"We've done crime shows that have had some kind of life in Sweden, Norway, Germany, but no-one thought this would go anywhere besides Denmark.

"It has drawn the attention of Europe, UK, the world to Scandinavia, so it is a wonderful window for the acting community in Denmark. If you have the ambition to go abroad, I think this is the moment to do it."

Filming of Borgen stopped in December. Ms Sorensen's next project was in Scotland. She travelled to Dumfries for a short film.

"I was interested in working abroad and I was interested in doing something in English and I read this script for a short film and I was intrigued and fascinated," she explained.

"It was more or less my worst nightmare written out, but it was beautifully written and I could see it in my mind when I was reading it and that is a clear indication you should actually pursue it. So, yeah, I spent a week in Dumfries."

She hopes to work more in English. With Borgen's final series set to run in the UK next winter, she - and the rest of the cast and production team - will be guaranteed a high profile for some time to come.

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