Borgen’s Filmhouse finale wows Edinburgh

Sidse Knudsen from Danish political drama Borgen meets fans at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh. Picture: Toby Williams
Sidse Knudsen from Danish political drama Borgen meets fans at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh. Picture: Toby Williams
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IT IS the Scandinavian political drama which producers feared would leave even Danish viewers cold.

But the phenomenal success of Borgen reached the streets of Scotland yesterday, as hundreds turned out in the capital to watch a cinema screening of the Danish television series’ 
second season finale – and catch a glimpse of one of the world’s most popular fictional politicians.

Picture:  Mike Koll�ffel, DR.

Picture: Mike Koll�ffel, DR.

Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays fictional Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg, travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to meet fans of the unlikely BBC4-screened hit series and speak about her inspiration for the acclaimed role.

Hundreds of devotees -– including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, along with other MSPs – gathered at the Filmhouse for the special screening of the final two episodes.

For those not yet into the corridors-of-power drama, the action sees the country’s first female PM do deals with minority parties to maintain uneasy alliances – while the leading characters’ private lives mirror the tense juggling of their professional calling.

The mix, set against the same brooding Copenhagen skyline that marked stablemate The Killing, has been devoured by fans – including the nail-biting finale screened on Saturday night.

Picture:  Danish Broadcating Corp. - Photographer: Mike Kollöffel

Picture: Danish Broadcating Corp. - Photographer: Mike Kollöffel

And arch spin doctor Kasper Juul – a shadowy figure modelled on Alastair Campbell – could not have fixed it better himself when Knudsen arrived to meet fans dressed head-to-toe in red and black tartan.

Originally, a single Filmhouse screening was booked to promote the DVD release of the second series, but such was the demand that the cinema cancelled other films to run three separate showings yesterday, with Ms Sturgeon briefly introducing the packed final run at 5pm.

“Why do we like it?” Ms Sturgeon asked the audience. “Maybe it gives us a glimpse of the country we could be.”

She said she found herself in an unusual role for a politician. “I was interviewing her for Scottish television. The only thing I managed to get her to reveal is that there is to be a Scottish love interest in the next series.”

Nyborg will fall for architect Jeremy Welsh in the next series, played by Monarch of the Glen star Alastair Mackenzie.

Mrs Sturgeon said Borgen was often realistic. “It’s a drama but with an authentic twist. As a politician I can relate to it.”

Emma Boa, box office supervisor at the Filmhouse, said she had rarely seen such a turnout. “Screen One seats 280 per showing and still demand was higher than we could accommodate” she said. “We even cancelled Les Mis at 2pm, which as you can imagine is very popular itself.”

Among those in the queues were diehard fans, including a couple who had watched all 18 preceding episodes in 24 hours, before heading to the Filmhouse.

Knudsen, 44, gave audiences the inside track on Borgen – the nickname for Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament – and revealed the crew’s anxiety that the show would fail to draw even Danish viewers. “We were hoping to get OK audiences in Denmark, because after The Killing and other series it was a bit risky with a political series,” she said.

“But somehow we just fell behind it, people kept watching and it was just amazing. A big surprise.”

There are obvious parallels with the current Statsminister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the first female Danish premier, leader of the Social Democrats and daughter-in-law of former Labour leader and European commissioner Neil Kinnock.

While Knudsen played down any suggestion she had used her real-life counterpart for inspiration – the first series was filmed before Ms Thorning-Schmidt came to power in October 2011 – she said the rise of interest in female politicians helped the series along the way.

“There something with the timing that has been so lucky,” she said. “For some reason I cannot explain, politics in Denmark became a little more popular. Ten years ago it was ‘blurgh’, but for some reason it was a little more popular.

“And we had this lady who was maybe going to be prime minister.”

Knudsen said she and the cast found it difficult to fathom how a TV series about the corridors of power in a small Scandinavian state – Denmark’s population is about the same size as Scotland’s – could get millions of viewers across Europe hooked.

“What’s really important is that the series is very Danish,” she said. “We’re not sucking up to America. It’s taking this chance of making something that’s just in Denmark, about Danish people and for Danish people.

“The success is partly because you are discovering something you didn’t think you’d see. There’s a loyalty to these treasures we find ourselves, in a sense it’s a cult. I’m not just loving this American film like everybody else. It has an exclusivity to it.”

Borgen is produced by the public sector broadcaster DR, which had already had success with The Killing. “It’s a public TV station, there are no commercials, were not allowed to do any product placement” Knudsen explains.

“It’s quite pure in that sense and that means everybody wants to do it. We get the best directors, the best photographers, the best writers – it’s a highly regarded product.”

The first series, of Borgen, aired on BBC4 in January 2012, follows the shock rise of Birgitte Nyborg, her veteran deputy Bent Sejro and spin doctor Kasper Juul – played by Pilou Asbæk, 30 – to the offices of Statsminister.

The second series focuses on Denmark finding its place in world affairs, including Nyborg witnessing at first hand the losses suffered in Afghanistan.

Knudsen said she herself went from having a jaded view of politicians to sympathising with their role, a transition she hopes viewers would also make. “When I started doing it I became a little bit offended when heard people talking about the political game,” she told the 
audience. “They talk about them as chess pieces, and it’s very disrespectful.

“This is giving an insight into these chess pieces – actually made of blood and dreams and feelings and realness.

“Borgen [the parliament itself] is a fantastic dramatic scene. There are so many possibilities, ideals and cynicism, parallels and emotions – got it all.”

Fans were interested in Knudsen’s views on Holyrood and the referendum next year. They also sought her take on her considerably popularity among politicians here, such as Alison Johnstone, the Green MSP, who was also spotted in the audience.

However, she managed to both charm her audience and avoid the question on several occasions, except to say that she was “a little bit stunned” at the admiration.

The third series – which she hinted would mark a considerable shift in style from the first two – is scheduled to be the last, but Knudsen offered a glimmer of hope to the fans who turned out yesterday.

“We’d never say never,” she laughed.

Ms Sturgeon admitted she was as “excited as anyone” about the third series

She added: “I’ve given up trying to be dignified. I’ve just met Sidse Babett Knudsen.”