Sunday, January 22, 2012

Borgen: Carlsberg Don't Do Governments, But If They Did, This Would Probably ...

'Your wife just beat the most powerful man in Denmark at poker.'

Over the course of the last two weeks, Borgen has picked up a small, but hugely dedicated, audience in the UK with its mixture of political intrigue, complex inter-relationship stories and sly wit. The impressive and accomplished Danish drama series about the fight for political power continued on Saturday with a further two excellent episodes on BBC4. The first, Men Who Love Women, was a beautifully Aaron Sorkin-style look at the personal sacrifices and consequences to be made by those involved on (and immediately behind) the political stage. With the support of her Minister of Trade and Industry, Henriette Klitgaard (cue use of the punning nickname 'The Klit' which, one imagines, some lice who read the Daily Scum Mail won't have been particularly impressed by) Birgitte Nyborg Christensen puts forth a proposal for gender quotas on Danish companies' boards of directors. The proposal - a manifesto commitment from the Moderate Party that they never, for a second, expected to have to put into place - meets with resistance both in and out of government. And the country's most powerful businessman gives Birgitte an ultimatum which could have serious consequences for pretty much everyone. Meanwhile, some parts of the media choose to focus on the very attractive and ambitious Minister's private life (and somewhat salacious past as a lingerie model), which turns out to be morally problematic for some in the coalition. While Katrine turns down at first an offer of help to take better care of herself from a hunk of a fitness trainer, Kasper - as usual - gets into a right old muddle with the ladies. 'It's ten thirty, Kasper, you should get a life!' It's nice to see from this episode that Denmark has its own memorably hypocritical and dodgy media barons who use their newspapers to push a specific political agenda with no sign of a moral compass in the vicinity. So, they are just like the rest of us after all, it would seem. That's, actually, a relief! A clever mixture of power politics, realpolitik and sexual politics ('the staff meetings are starting to resemble a Stag party' Katrine says at one point about TV1's debate on how they should cover the issue - 'girl power' or 'fighting talk'. 'For me, it's Hen parties! replies Kasper wearily), keen observations on the civil service ('they always oppose the status quo') and not passing up a chance to annoy the Sisterhood (Kasper's brilliant little 'Come the revolution' rant about dreary old-style man-hater Pernille Madsen) this is a superb episode. Proper, mature, adult drama focusing on issues in a balanced and thoughtful way. It's, again, The West Wing, basically. Just Danish. There's excellent characterisations on display (like the continuing saga of Sanne, Birgitte's scatterbrain secretary. 'She's incompetent,' notes the Prime Minister casually as Sanne just about manages to leave the room without tripping over her own feet. 'Yes, but she's got a great arse,' replies Kasper with a charming smile, channeling Josh Lyman for all he's worth) and some marvellous comedy moments. When Philip confesses that, many years ago, after a particularly drunken Christmas party (and long before he met and married Birgitte) he and a then very young intern, Henriette, had a brief one night stand, Birgitte's pithy reply is 'go through a list of my ministers and let me know which ones you haven't slept with!' Well-acted (I particularly enjoyed the veteran Ulf Pilgaard as the Rupert Murdoch-like Joachim Chrone) and, with some further examples of the sinister machinations of the loathsome and odious Laugesen, the feminism storyline was also highly effective and rather realistic. Birgitte is shown to stand by Henriette while she is being mauled by the press over ancient lingerie shots and casual affairs – refusing to judge the minister by tabloid standards even when others (with their own - often sinister - agendas) urge her to do so. But, she shows herself to be totally ruthless and practical in the face of Klitgaard's little white lies on a CV. She's a career politician and she's getting very good at it. It was interesting, too, from a British perspective in so much as we tend to think of Scandinavians generally as having a far more equal society when it comes to things like gender in promotion and positions of power. The newsroom scenes and press reaction suggest Denmark, too, has a fair way to go. The introduction of Pernille, the - frankly jolly unlikeable - minister for gender, who hugs Birgitte in the we're-all-girls-in-this-together way after she's, basically, just demanded she get another woman's job - also added another dimension to the storyline. This was a feminism done with far more subtlety and sense of realism than most dramas could ever dream of managing. Even more West Wing-like, The State Visit saw Birgitte facing her first official state visit, as the - really vile - president of the former Soviet republic Turgisia (no, me neither) comes to take over the chairmanship of an international board. He also announces his intention to invest one billion euros in Danish wind turbine technology, which makes everybody happy. However, the simultaneous arrival of a renowned Turgisian poet and dissident (played by Scottish actor Michael Nardone) places Birgitte in the middle of a significant, escalating conflict - a crisis of conscience with the knowledge that the billion euros flooding into the Danish economy comes at a price. Like the Americans in 1945 when in desperate need of a space programme, do you do deals with people who have something you need a turn a blind eye to the fact that some of them are criminals? Birgitte also faces conflict at home as her father becomes an unwelcome house guest in the eyes of her husband. With its witty mixture of domestic squabbles, a gala performance of Swan Lake, Kasper's complicated love life (his run-ins with 'Mr Fitness' and then being told, blatantly, 'don't shit where you eat') and some really clever media-manipulation, this one was a cracker too. Albeit possibly not quite as involving as the first episode. Points of interest include one of the great lines of the series so far ('I mean no disrespect, Mr President, but international law prevents me from arresting a man without proof'). Notice, also, that although French and German 'news organisations' were discussed in general non-specific terms but when it came to yer actual British ones, just 'The BBC' was mentioned. A lesson to all Tory MPs, as far as most of the rest of the world is concerned, the BBC is the British media. Let us consider, too, the absolute mind-fuck of watching a Danish television programme reference the BBC whilst we're all watching it on the BBC. Oh, I think my brain's just melted. However, one minus point in the programme's depiciton of the British media: Who let that seemingly ex-Rodean journalist of the Gruniad Morning Star into the press conference? With her little banal question about nothing. Surely, she'd have been asking Birgitte and Grozin whether they thought Top Gear should be banned? That's all that most of the nasty lice who work for that particular organ of the press are interested in. It's been rather signposted that Philip and Birgitte's marriage is heading for troubled waters – and the combination of long hours, household chores not getting done and a visiting in-law almost brings things to a pressure cooker of a climax here. It was hard not to feel a bit for Philip as Birgitte dumps her (only mildly annoying ageing hippy) father on him at short notice. Which isn't to suggest the marital issues have been over played. In fact, quite the opposite: generally there's been a subtlety and warmth in the scenes involving the Christensen home, with Birgitte's late-night chat with her father filling in a few of the blanks about their back story. British character actor Nicholas Woodeson (dear blog readers will probably know him best from Rome, or as Graham in EastEnders, although he's been in loads of this blogger's favourite dramas including Waking the Dead, Foyle's War and Cracker) was terrific as the slimy President Grozin, the sort of chap you could easily imagine waking up one morning and, as his first action, deciding to have seventy dissidents shot before breakfast. Although, interestingly, his proud little speech telling Birgitte not to lecture his country on democracy when the Danes have had a hundred and sixty years of it and, therefore, plenty of practice, whilst the Turgisians, twenty years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, are relative novices, was the best bit of the episode. Apart, of course, from Birgitte's triumphant manoeuvre at the press conference. 'I really appreciate your answer to the last question. Because I'm not going to hand him over to you.' An ethical debate on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. A hard, cold, dispassionate look at the politics of compromise in making trade deals with scoundrels and oppressors (albeit, rich ones who want to buy your wind turbines) versus the politics of idealism about playing the game only up to the point where lives are at stake. It's like that memorable bit in one of Tony Benn's mid-1970s diaries when he describes chiding the then-Foreign secretary Jim Callahan for signing a trade deal for Swan Hunter's to build a warship for Pinochet's Chile and Callahan replies 'do you want to be the one to tell a thousand shipyard workers on Tyneside that they're going to be on the dole on Monday because you don't like who we're doing business with?' All this from a TV drama. That's the sort of entertainment you don't get on Midsomer Murders.

The Sherlock season two DVD set turned up on Saturday morning at yer actual Stately Telly Topping Manor from those lovely chaps and chapesses at Play. All three episodes, commentaries on A Scandal in Belgravia (featuring Steven, Mark, Sue, Benny and Lara Pulver) plus The Hounds of Baskerville (Steven, Mark, Sue and Russell Tovey) and a 'Making Of ...' documentary. Might've been nice to also have a commentary on The Reichenbach Fall but, hell, you can't have everything, can you? I mean, where would you keep it? And, meanwhile, there's another very good interview with the very Moffster himself in the Gruniad. I particularly enjoyed his description of Jane Clare Jones's frankly misanthropic review of A Scandal in Belgravia in the Gruniad as 'deeply offensive.' As with much else they print, frankly, Steven.
If you have four and a bit minutes to spare in your busy life, dear blog reader, then why not check out the many d'oh's of Homer Simpson. Because, sometimes, an annoyed grunt is all the world will let you make.

Bradley Walsh has been doing a lot of TV this week to promote the new series of Law & Order: UK. Well, he's very entertaining is old Brad; he was good on The ONE Show in midweek and was excellent on Soccer AM on Saturday talking about his infamous 'Fanny Schmeler' clip from The Cube.
Christine Bleakley has claimed that she ignores online criticism about her Twatting About On Ice role. Would that we could all ignore her.

A surgeon has reattached balding former TV magician Paul Daniels' finger after he cut it off with a saw on New Year's Day. Daniels, seventy three, lost his left index finger and the tip of his ring finger in an accident with a circular saw while building props for his act. He drove himself from his Berkshire home to hospital in Henley-on-Thames, where the index finger was reattached. He told BBC Radio 5Live: 'I've only lost the tip of one finger. It could have been a hell of a sight worse.' True. Not a lot, admittedly.

Residents of a remote Chinese town nicknamed Dog Shit Village have won a petition to legally change its name. Goushi Zhai, in the Guizhou province, earned the moniker when locals began referring to it as such because of its lack of accessibility, claiming that only dogs would go there to defecate. The Sun reports that police and local officials began using the name 'Dog Shit Village', which eventually began appearing on maps of the area. 'Gradually it became what everyone called us,' said a villager. Guizhou governors have since agreed to change the name to Jinxin, meaning prosperous and happy.
Today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is another gem from The Be-Atles. (Popular beat combo from the North West, you might've heard of them.)

No comments: