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Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen?

As someone with a research interest British political fictions, I have been thoroughly enjoying the new Danish political drama Borgen on BBC4. Casting an eye over the reviews it would appear others have too. It won’t be too long however until we begin to hear voices wondering why Britain cannot produce similar political dramas, and in turn, why our political fiction is so cynical (the latter will no doubt be given as the reason for the former). Indeed, we already have.

There is nothing particularly new to such criticism: inevitably Borgen has been compared to The West Wing which itself has been wheeled out consistently over the past decade or so to compare favourably with the perceived sourness in British fiction’s take on politics. In truth the comparison between US optimism versus UK pessimism in political fiction can be traced much further back.

It is difficult to deny this surface difference; nor the pretty glum conclusion UK fiction tends to come to time and time again about our politicians. In an article I wrote for Parliamentary Affairs I sought to look at these apparently contrasting traditions of fictional politics. Firstly did the differences stand up on closer scrutiny of more than just the usually quoted handful of examples (such as Yes, Minister, House of Cards and The Thick of It) that are used when British fictional politics are discussed. Moreover what was the nature of this cynicism (has it changed over time for instance, are there any chinks of light in all that gloom) and could it possibly be accountable, as some have claimed, for the negative view UK voters have for their representatives?

Hopefully the success of Borgen will not lead to further glib comparisons based on national stereotypes and selective examples: we live and learn.

Matthew Bailey

Published inArt, Fiction & Politics


  1. Mike Killingworth Mike Killingworth

    I wonder if part of the answer might not be the perceived need in the UK to be politically impartial. The West Wing, on the other hand, could be avowedly Democratic because the country is big enough for HBO to have popular and cricitcal successes without a single dyed-in-the-wool Republican tuning in.

    In Scandinavia, I would guess, there is more of a political consensus. However Borgen may just be part of the reality that in the 21st century it is the part of the western world where artistic creativity seems to be greatest, whether in novels, film or music.

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