Borgen Creator Adam Price Talks Work Life Balance, Danish Politics And Cameron's Mention
The Danish TV show, which finished its first season on BBC Four recently, is a pheomenon in its native country - on Sunday nights over half the TV watching population are glued to it on DR1 - their equivalent of BBC One. It's now taken many in Britain by storm and is due to air on TV stations across the world in the coming weeks.
I've used it as an antidote to chilly January evenings, and was amazed that my other half, who's wise enough to have nothing to do with politics or journalism, has managed to get into a Danish subtitled political drama as well.
What have we learned so far? The Danish for spin doctor is...well, spin doktor. Proporational representation can mean making concessions to crackpot politicians, and that it's impossible to be the Statsminister and have a family life... or is it?
I caught up with its creator Adam Price, who told us the show is just as much about trying to maintain a family life as it is about politics.
The interview has possible spoilers if you haven't watched all of the first series.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first - Adam Price is a very English sounding name, but you're Danish...
I come from an old English family, we left the UK in the 1790s, so it's been a while.
Tell us about your career before Borgen.
I'd been writing for TV for about 20 years as a staff writer for several of the DR shows, the first one I wrote for was a show called Taxi, about a taxi cab company, since then I've been writing for several shows on the competing channel, TV2.
Did you work on The KIlling?
No I didn't, nothing to do with The Killing, but I worked with the creator of The Killing on a previous show, which was a romantic comedy.
So you'd never worked on a political drama show before Borgen, but it feels like it's written by someone who knows politics inside-out. What kind of input did you get on that?
We research quite a lot and every single episode we research thoroughly before writing it, I've always been very interested in politics. The mechanics of politics, of power-play, within the Parliament.
Just before Borgen I wrote a police show, and I wondered if you could write a political show on the same premise, exciting and thrilling, but without flashing blue lights and dead people everywhere. We'd never had an entirely political show on Danish TV before. We've had politics as a side story, as with the political apsect of The Killing, but that's a sideplot to a police show.
So who's helped you with research on Borgen?
Well politicians, first of all. From all sides of the Parliament. Spin doctors, political analysts and political journalists, and we have what we call our "evil uncle" at the show, who's DR1's political editor from the News department. He comes actually for every episode and we pitch him the political plot for that particular episode. He'll sit there and listen to us, and he'll say what sounds realistic, how things would happen in real life, how a politician would say things.
Is Danish politics anything like as exciting in real life as you portray it in Borgen?
Well it's the same thing as when you write a police show, drama is not about the middle ground, it's about the mountain peaks and the depths. When you write a police show you write about the seconds of very exciting police work, you don't portray the hundreds of hours of tedious police work.
So in many ways it's like several years of politics condensed down into one year...
You could say that, but then again I would say the past five years of politics in Denmark have been actually quite dramatic. Just the first five months of the new government in Denmark, they have been quite lively, I must say. Actually I thanked the spin doctor of the current prime minister when I met him about a month ago, because they've had so many scandals, we hardly get any criticism of our show any more, because it's no longer unrealistic.
One thing a lot of people - especially those who don't work in politics - like about Borgen is the transition of Birgitte Nyborg from a warm and emotional person to a quite cold and calculating woman. Was that your main aim of the show?
Well yes, and I think that was the main story. The main arc of the first series of the show. That storyline was there from the very beginning, basically the most important story of the show, the story I personally really wanted to tell.
Was the first idea and premise of the show that it was Denmark's first female prime minister?
Yes it was there from the very beginning, because the story is actually about a person who gets completely engulfed in work, whose idealism leads her into a dark place in her life where she is a very succesful politician, a very succesful professional, you could say, but a very poor person when it comes to private life.
I didn't want politics to corrupt her as a politician, I wanted her to become a very, very good politician, but a very bad wife, a very distracted mother, because this job is so incredibly demanding. And that was the core of the story of the first season.
And that's something that's specific to women at the top?
Because of our prejudice that we tend to believe that women are closer to family, are closer to their marriage and to their emotions than many men. You could argue that men have had ten thousand years of letting down their wives and their family, because they needed to lead armies into war and so on.
Women have only had about 100 years of professional life, and perhaps only forty, fifty years of playing a serious part in political life. Therefore I thought it would be more interesting to watch a woman let down the feelings that are dear to her, than watch a man doing the same thing we've always known them to do .
Did you want Birgitte's husband Philip to be a sympathetic character? He becomes resentful because he's been emasculated and domesticated, did you want us to take sides?
The most interesting drama is that everybody is right. When it comes to their relationship, that was the core relationship of the series, and we wanted them to be typical and vocal about their two very different standpoints. I defeinitely wanted Philip to be a very good husband in the beginning, but you could argue that he doesn't have the stamina to remain a good husband, and he doesn't.
When we aired the first season in Denmark a year ago, the discussions in the media were interesting. Women and men felt very differently towards the two characters. Some men thought that he was right doing what he did, and some women thought he was a creep. But then it was vice-versa.
Have you concluded from talking to politicians that it's actually impossible to have a normal life and succeed at the highest level?
It's not very comforting when you talk to politicians. I think it's pretty close to reality what we've been portraying. Of course there are happy marriages but they're only happy if the husband or wife in that marriage has a very clear role, they've discussed the matter and are willing to be completely domesticated, willing to not see their partner very much. I wanted this situation to hit Birgitte and Philip. They get a shock, and they never really recover from that shock.
How about the relationship between spin doctor Kaspar Juul and the TV journalist Katrine Fonsmark. Did you get some research into that from their real-life equivalents?
Well yes, and I think it's been hotly debated in Denmark for quite some years, the relationship with political journalists working in Parliament, shoulder-to-shoulder with the spin doctors and the politicans. They get closely related and of course some of them will eventually fall in love and have affairs, and tell each other secrets. The whole thing can become too close.
Well we're glad to learn that happens elsewhere, too! You might not be aware but David Cameron's speech in Stockholm this week where he said he wouldn't rule out gender quotas on corporate boards was siezed upon as being drawn from Borgen. What would you say to that?
I'm sure he doesn't, but we're very proud that people are even saying that.
Do you think Birgitte Nyborg would still call for those quotas having been Statsminister for a year or two?
Well of course she's still able to retain her idealism, and I think that's very important. She's still idealistic about things, even though she now knows the reality isn't so easy. You need to be idealistic as a politician.
Series 2 of Borgen will be on BBC Four later this year. But if like me you couldn't wait until then, the DVD of Season Two is out there, on Amazon...
Obligatory political TV shows tribute: