Aidan Smith's TV week: Borgen (Netflix), Pistol (Disney+), The Midwich Cuckoos (Sky Max)
When Borgen ended nine years ago I was glad. Sad but glad. Like the immaculate Danish furnishings, like the immaculate Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg, it was perfect. And three seasons seemed perfect. Too many great shows overstay their welcome and too many make the mistake of attempting a comeback.
But the political drama has returned and I’m shouting: “What kept you, Birgitte? Where have you been? If I can be parochial for a moment, because I know you went out to 70 countries, but we in the UK need you. We need our faith in government restored, in particular our faith in the office of the PM. Only you can do this!”
Actually, before that, I’m shouting at Nyborg: “Why are you speaking in English? I was cool with subtitles and learning some Danish words (Hej - hello; korrupt - corrupt; bolle - bonk). Now you sound awfully like Priti Patel!”
The new series is on Netflix who like to dub foreign language productions but eventually I work out how to change Borgen back to how it used to grip us on Saturday nights, double-bill, snuggled up in the hygge way. And it still grips.
Nyborg, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, is not PM anymore but Foreign Secretary in a coalition. The PM is young, and on the early evidence, charmless. Nyborg is frustrated. By the boss calling a press conference for the same time as her. By her new aide faffing and getting her title wrong (where’s Kasper?). By having the phone put down on her. Oh, and by the looks of things, she’s menopausal. Borgen, besides the political, was always good on the personal.
“Her time is over. Most people have forgotten her,” mutters a rival. Wrong, so wrong. Nyborg declares: “No kids at home, no husband feeling neglected, I’m having the time of my life.” There’s an immediate clash with the PM over a big oil discovery in Greenland. The PM can’t see past the bounty - 1,850bn krone - but Nyborg is worried about the environmental impact.
They brief against each other and there are juicy leaks to TV1 where Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen), who you’ll remember once bolle-ed an MP to death, has returned after a stint on the dark side as Nybork’s head of press. Welcome back, then, Borgen, and good that you’re still able to forecast cock-ups in real government. You see, Nyborg packing off an incompetent to a dead-end job in Manila chimes perfectly with “Party Marty” - Downing Street official Martin Reynolds who was behind the “BYOB” invites during Partygate - being despatched to Saudi Arabia.
So you’re on holiday at Disneyland. You’ve met Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and there’s more fun to come with attractions celebrating contemporary classics including Star Wars, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean. But what’s this? Punkland, a simulated ride round grotty, strike-hit, mid-1970s London in a stolen car with Johnny Rotten at the wheel?
No such feature exists, but there is Pistol on Disney+, Danny Boyle’s biopic of Rotten’s Sex Pistols. This might seem risque subject matter for the family film empire but remember how they recently turned Pamela Anderson’s sextape into a drama.
Like Pam and Tommy, Pistol is cartoonish with pretty actors playing Rotten (even with teeth blackened to replicate how he came by the stage name), Sid Vicious and the rest of the nihilists in the band and among their scenesters. None is prettier than Sydney Chandler who almost steals the show as Chrissie Hynde, later of the Pretenders but for now stuck behind the counter at Vivienne Westwood’s boutique Sex. She decides that if her boyfriend Nick Kent, the rock journalist, is going to persist on being a boring Keith Richards wannabe then she might as well have a fling with future Pistols guitarist Steve Jones who she’s just caught trying to steal some of the shop’s way-out clobber.
This is one of Pistols unintentionally funny jokes because only Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean was a bigger Richards impersonator than Kent, the man from the New Musical Express. Unfortunately there aren’t enough jokes, unintentional or not.
The Pistols’ Svengali, Malcolm McLaren, is played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster. You might not recognise him underneath the ginger curls but he was the angelic schoolboy in that great, steaming pile of soppiness, Love Actually. This is some leap.
Defiantly unconventional the Pistols may have been but their story gets a pretty conventional treatment here, with plenty of rockbiz cliche. There’s plenty of old-fart music on the soundtrack - to illustrate who the Pistols hated but also I bet to soothe the ears of those who found punk too abrasive. Anson Boon, born in 2000, has Rotten’s maniacal leering off pat, as if it had been studied for a drama school exam. But Rotten didn’t despise old-fart music and was a secret fan of Atomic Rooster, Jethro Tull and Van der Graaf Generator.
The very first time I was terrified by TV - aged five, unable to sleep, sat on my mother’s knee in winceyette pyjamas - soldiers were moving through empty streets in silent slo-mo. This is how The Midwich Cuckoos (Sky Max) begins after lights have crackled and fizzed and everyone has tumbled to the ground. The town’s newest occupant failed to heed good-luck advice to enter his house backwards and now all the womenfolk are pregnant. Once psychotherapist Keeley Hawes has investigated, if she could just read me a bedtime story everything would be fine.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.