Borgen supremacy: DR reveals the secret to its success

Drama producer claims the key to a good drama is trusting the writer’s “one vision” and sticking to it

Following in the footsteps of ‘The Killing’, another Danish thriller portraying a powerful female figure roughing it out in a mostly male-dominated work environment is becoming a huge phenomenon abroad, especially in the UK.

For the British debut of DR’s political drama ‘Borgen’ two weeks ago, an astounding 650,000 viewers tuned in – a response that has “amazed” Morten Hesseldahl, the cultural director of DR, according to British newspaper The Guardian.

“We thought Borgen was maybe too Danish to travel,” Hesseldahl told the newspaper. “We are amazed and happy it is possible.”

Part of the first episode is actually set in London, but this wasn’t a deliberate tactic to woo British viewers, said Camilla Hammerich, the producer of the drama. “It was to appeal to Danish viewers – we had no idea it was going to travel back to the UK later.”

The reviews in Britain have been universally good. The Daily Mail described ‘Borgen’ as “more addictive than ‘The Killing’” and an “escapist delight”; the Daily Telegraph praised the drama’s “clever characterisation, punchy dialogue and addictive pace”; while The Guardian found it “a fantastically compelling and intricate drama”.

The latter – a self-confessed Danophile that regularly praises this country’s artistic output – even sent a journalist over the North Sea to track down the show’s producer in a bid to learn Denmark’s secret formula for making quality drama.

The answer, Hammerich told The Guardian, was to have “one vision” and to stick to it. “We give [the writers] a lot of space and time to develop their story,” she revealed. “The vision of the writer is the centre of attention, we call it ‘one vision’ – meaning everyone works towards fulfilling this one vision, and very few executives are in a position to make final decisions.”

In the case of ‘Borgen’, Hammerich attributed its success to its ability to make the exceptional circumstance of the central character (a politician, Birgitte Nyborg, who unexpectedly becomes the first female prime minister of her country) accessible to the viewer.

“Borgen reflects the universal dilemma: is it possible to obtain and keep power and yourself?” she contended. “Are you able to have a career and take care of your family and yourself all at the same time?”
Since the filming of the first series, reality has mirrored fiction with Helle Thorning-Schmidt becoming the first female PM of Denmark. “We know the prime minister watches it,” revealed Hammerich.

“She finds it entertaining. But she is not always happy with developments in the life of Birgitte Nyborg. Lots of parallels are drawn between Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Nyborg. The series has come under constant scrutiny from political and journalistic quarters. Everything is analysed.”