I’ve caught the Nordic Noir bug and got the jumpers to prove it. Along the way I’ve developed a huge crush on the Prime Minister of Denmark, or as I know her, Birgitte Nyborg, star of the Danish political TV drama Borgen. I’m only half way through Season 2 but I’m completely hooked.
Who thought Danish coalition politics could be so riveting?
Borgen is the Danish equivalent of The West Wing with a cast of politicians, spin-doctors and journalists. It also manages to weave a perfect blend of the personal and political; taking Danish politics very seriously, while still paying attention to domestic issues.
Nordic Noir Heroines
Borgen is brilliantly written by Adam Price and produced by the same team who brought us The Killing and Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Lund. While The Killing was a gripping crime drama it was hard to form an emotional attachment to Sarah Lund mainly because she hardly ever smiled. I admired the fact that she was brilliant at her job, obsessed with her work and finding the killer, but any vulnerability she possessed was masked in her seriousness and aloofness.
Similarly with Saga Noren, the protagonist in the Scandi crime series The Bridge. She has rock star looks and a talent for solving crime, but is emotionally distant as a result of having Asperger syndrome. And while her character offers some comic relief against a background of unrelenting murder and mayhem, it is still difficult as a viewer to form an emotional attachment to her.
All three Nordic Noir heroines are portrayed as competent, strong, intelligent women who are extremely good at their work. As a result, their personal lives suffer.
But the character of Birgitte Nyborg is different. Whereas Sarah Lund and Saga Noren are uncommunicative and lacking in social graces, Birgitte is beautiful and charming. She embodies an intoxicating blend of power and vulnerability, which is what I love about her.
What does a Powerful Woman look like?
All this got me wondering what does a powerful woman look like? When it comes to the dress code of Nordic Noir heroines, Sarah Lund tends to hide her body beneath bulky sweaters, and Saga Noren has a penchant for tight leather trousers. Birgitte Nyborg prefers power suits and crisp shirts with her hair scraped back in a no-nonsense bun.
In an age where female power is usually associated with wealth or celebrity it’s sometimes difficult to conjure exactly what a powerful woman looks like in the political realm.
In Britain the image of Margaret Thatcher will forever haunt some people, but in more recent times there is former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While all of these women have wielded influence and power, none of them are known for their vulnerability. Which is what makes the character of Birgitte Nyborg so seductive.
Birgitte Nyborg: A Perfect Blend of the Masculine and Feminine
What I love about the character of Birgitte is how she represents a perfect blend of masculinity and femininity: power and vulnerability.
At the beginning of Season 1 we see her squeezing into a suit before her first appearance in Parliament as Prime Minister and bemoaning the fact that she’s put on a little weight – in other words, she’s just like the rest of us.
She is essentially a soft-hearted and decent person, probably unsuited for the political jungle in many ways, but that only serves to make her a better politician. She is able to step-up when there is a crisis and call on her inner strength and leadership qualities.
While her fellow politicians are busy with their Machiavellian manoeuvrings, she has to confront ethical and moral dilemmas on a daily basis and somehow make the right decision – for her, her party, and her country. Her idealism often takes a battering and she has to learn the art of compromise.
Her femininity allows her to communicate well, listen to her instincts, be compassionate and nurturing whereas her masculine qualities mean she is able to be assertive, decisive, express anger and deal with power struggles.
The gifted actress Sidse Babett Knudsen portrays the inner workings of Birgitte’s psyche exquisitely through her facial expressions and body language. We see her struggle with anger, betrayal, and politicians defying her orders and vying for her position. There are times when she is forced to make decisions she doesn’t want to, like firing a fellow politician who is also a friend and mentor.
Birgitte tries to do it all: run the country, be a good mother to her two children and a supportive and loving wife. But the job of Prime Minister has to come first and eventually the strain on her marriage is too much. Birgitte finds herself divorced and a single mother while still fighting to retain her position as Prime Minister of Denmark.
But Birgitte Nyborg is not superwoman and she is not perfect. She makes mistakes. She cries. She seduces an employee out of loneliness. She doesn’t realise how desperately unhappy her teenage daughter is.
Because we see her develop as a leader while being devastated over the collapse of her marriage, we cheer for her, we hurt with her, cry and celebrate. Her portrayal of courage, vulnerability and inner strength is unlike any other television female heroine I’ve ever come across.
Why I love Borgen
That is why I love Borgen and the character of Birgitte Nyborg. She is powerful. She is human. She is real. And in an age where women in television dramas are often portrayed as murder victims, naked nymphomaniacs or sexless crones it’s refreshing to come across a beautiful woman in a suit wielding power. In fact, it’s downright sexy.
Image: Nordic Noir TV