Joshua Reviews Borgen: Season One [DVD Review]

BT Pressemøde på DRs nye dramaserie Borgen

With many critics saying that American television is in not only a golden age, but possibly the absolute apex of the medium so far in its history, the small screen has rarely bred as many great stories as we are seeing today. However, that’s not even necessarily including foreign television, which may be just as fruitful today as small screen production we here stateside churn out each season.

One of these top tier foreign shows has seen its second season arrive on DVD recently, and it’s about time that people begin to pay attention to the superb political thriller that is Borgen.

Season One of the series has been available now for a couple of months, and it’s an absolute thrill to take in. Clocking in at a tight 10 episodes (as are seasons two and three), this political thriller is from the same production team, the Danish public broadcaster DR, which brought the world the original version of the now remade The Killing, and this may be the best TV show few people have heard of.

Oft-compared to the legendary Aaron Sorkin series The West Wing, Borgen has also found a recent comparison in the David Fincher series House Of Cards, itself a remake of a superb foreign import. Season one introduces us to Birgitte Nyborg, Moderate Party leader, and the political landscape which she encompasses. Featuring an abundant number of romances, occasional murder and a tautly written story spinning many different wheels into one complete narrative with enough intrigue to leave any fan of marathon TV watching unable to turn their TV off, Borgen is, without a doubt, one of the most intriguing television imports in quite some time.

With a handful of directors behind the camera for this season, directors like Mikkel Norgaard, Annette K. Olesen, Rumle Hammerich and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen are able to weave a tale that doesn’t rely on faux-pretentious collection of cinematic flights of fancy, instead opting for a brooding, icy and isolationist aesthetic. Very much the proto-typical Danish thriller, the film features cold photography and rather plaintive filmmaking, focusing on substance more so than style. One could see a definite influence on shows like the US remake of The Killing, or even in the gritty aesthetic (albeit far less “showy”) of something like Fincher’s House Of Cards. However, the greatness of Borgen is that while this all seems relatively standard for today’s television landscape, every moment of this show feels like a complete gut punch to any viewer’s intellectual and emotional solar plexus. Startlingly bleak, the film doesn’t pull a single punch, and while issues arise in later seasons, this first season of Borgen, in all of its 10 episode glory, is one of the very best bits of television that most viewers haven’t been able to take in. It may very well feel like perfectly distilled Danish drama, but it still feels strikingly fresh and vital, even now three years after its first airing.

However, the show’s biggest star is likely Sidse Babett Knudsen. Starring here as Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, she has become one of the more talked about actors following the airing of the show, and for good reason. Churning in a career defining performance here as a politician on the brink, her arch is the main arch that we follow, and her performance becomes a perfect distillation of show’s greatness. A plaintive performance, her turn is full of emotion that resonates rather deeply, something unforeseen with regards to such frigid bit of political drama, and her turn pairs perfectly with equally powerful performances given by the likes of Pilou Asbaek and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen. All three (along with others like Mikael Birkkjaer and Soren Malling) give absolutely superb performances, bleeding a great sense of truth and power into a story that could have otherwise simply been a dramatic political thriller that is both lacking in drama and thrills.

While the new DVD for season one may lack in supplements, MHz Networks new release is a must own. All ten episodes look superb, and the transfers have really allowed the beautifully bleak photography to pop off the screen. The $50 price point is a bit steep (particularly for those who will ultimately get addicted to the series, needing to drop another $50 on season two), but Amazon’s price tag of roughly $28 is an absolute steal. These are 10 breathtaking episodes of television, and are a perfect bit of counter programming for a summer that has become as stuffed with solid television as we’ve seen in some time. And if my opinion doesn’t get you opening your wallet, just know that NBC has picked up the rights to remake the show, and have tapped beloved Friday Night Lights teammates David Hudgins and Jason Katims to bring the show stateside. You’ve been warned. Don’t miss out on one of the best shows around.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.