Hit Danish show Borgen returns to Netflix with dark power struggle over Arctic oil

After a 10-year hiatus, smash hit political drama Borgen returns to screens this week for a new season that sees Denmark wage a high-stakes power struggle over the Arctic after Greenland strikes oil.

Sidse Babett Knudsen returns as Birgitte Nyborg
Sidse Babett Knudsen returns as Birgitte Nyborg in the new season of Borgen on Netflix. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The fourth season, “Borgen — The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory”, premieres internationally on Netflix on Thursday.

Viewers last saw former Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg the day after her brand-new political party scored a sensational win in elections. Ten years on, she is foreign minister in a government headed by a woman 10 years her junior.

As the season opens, Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, has just struck oil.

Local political leaders see the black gold as Greenland’s long-awaited ticket to independence, undeterred by the environmental risks posed by drilling in the Arctic’s untouched wilderness.

Yet Denmark’s government — specifically Nyborg, as foreign minister for Denmark and Greenland combined — must wrangle with China, the US and Russia, who all have stakes in the lucrative discovery on the geostrategic island. 

The eight episodes treat viewers to breathtaking views of Greenland’s pristine icy landscapes — and a dive into Birgitte Nyborg’s darker side.

Series creator Adam Price told AFP the central plot idea came to him five years ago when he discovered there was a law that dictated that Denmark and Greenland must negotiate the division of revenue from any discovery of natural resources.

He saw an opportunity to combine the characters’ political battles with the strained relationship between Copenhagen and its former colony.

“When something is emotional and political at the same time, it’s just the perfect stuff for Borgen”, he said with a smile.

He didn’t want to pick up where season three had ended. After almost a decade, the world had changed, and his characters too.

Nyborg, now single with adult children, finds herself on unfamiliar ground and faces several setbacks in her career, despite her years of experience.

Once altruistic, she is now hardened and cynical and ends up turning her back on her ideals in order to cling to power.

“She is almost struck by the modern times”, Price said. “All of a sudden she has to wake up to this new dawn”.

“I really wanted to take Borgen into modern times … I wanted to basically throw (the characters) into the fire,” he said.

Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays Nyborg, said the season’s more cynical turn “terrified me a bit”.

“The world of Borgen has always been a little bit more idealistic, kinder”, she told AFP.

“Times have changed, so were going to completely change the world of Borgen to follow the real world, and I was curious to see how that would work”, she added.

The actress had previously vowed that the third season would be her last.

“I was completely sure that I would never do it again. I thought it was good (to end after three seasons) and a lot better than many shows that just keep going on until they’re worn thin.”

“I felt like we had told our story and we were done.”

But in the end she was “seduced” by the script for the fourth season and was easily persuaded — to the delight of fans around the world.

“When I worked abroad, people always asked me if there would be a new season”, she said with her trademark smile that crinkles her nose.

It remains to be seen if the fourth season will be a hit internationally, but Danish fans have already been won over.

Danish broadcaster DR released the series three months ago.

According to data from ratings institute Nielsen, Borgen had on average 776,000 viewers across the eight episodes — in a country of 5.5 million — and an average share of 44.5 percent.

The show has also aired on Netflix in the other Nordic countries, where it placed in the top 10 for several consecutive weeks.

So could there be a fifth season in store? 

“I’ve learned that you should never say never, but I think this is the end”, said Knudsen.

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‘Black, black and more black’: Six tips on how to dress like a Dane

Danes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Denmark. The Local asked Danes and foreigners living in Denmark to help us figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Dane.

'Black, black and more black': Six tips on how to dress like a Dane

Praised for its simple, understated and classic lines, but bemoaned for a lack of colour and individuality, there’s no doubt that Danish fashion style has made a mark on our readers in Denmark.

We asked you to let us know what you thought constituted the classic Danish look and give us your tips for the quintessential items. Thank you to all who took the time to get in touch. 

Black, black and more black

“Black. Black. Black” wrote one reader, Linda, when we asked for a typical feature of Danish fashion. The sentiment is a fair reflection of how most people see Danes’ dress sense – for better or for worse.

“Danes have a wonderfully casual style. As for worst aspects, there are more colours than black and brown!”, wrote Louis.

“Black, black and more black – with a hint of grey,” were the observations of Nicholas in Copenhagen.

A Danish model in black clothing. File photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Really? Just black?

“Most women prefer black, grey or white. If they ‘want to wear colour’, they’ll wear a small colourful bracelet or scarf or something small,” said Samantha, a project manager who has lived in Copenhagen for over 10 years.  

“Most teenage girls will wear black leather jackets and blue jeans. In the summer is the only time when Danish women will wear some colour, usually in the form of flowery dresses which tend to be very nice,” Samantha said.

Danish fashion is sometimes criticised for lacking individual expression, but Samantha said it is there if you look closely.

“The personality is in the details. Danes like to dress alike on the surface, but like to have small details that give them personality,” she said.

“Jewellery is usually thin and lightweight. Very nice, but never large – thin necklaces, thin bracelets, small stones, very little colour here as well,” she said.

“I am a male – slim fit, tight pants or jeans, open collar button down shirts,” reader Marc Peltier, a defence manager from Copenhagen, said.

“When a tie is worn, it is a dark colour and thin. Colours are dark (black, blue, dark green), no patterns. Striped T-shirts,” he said.

Scarves and raincoats: Mix style with practical needs

Marc’s tip for an essential – or, at least, popular – Danish clothing item is a raincoat from the brand Rains, which describes itself on its website as having a “conceptual-meets-functional design approach”.

Regardless of the brand you choose, having a purpose outer layer for wet weather is certainly a choice that makes sense in Denmark.

“Beautiful long coats in beige, navy and black” were cited by reader Nico as a particularly popular choice for Danes.

Scarves were another item which many picked out as a Danish essential and a hugely popular item that can cross seasonal divides.

Photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash

“A great scarf that goes with everything… everyone needs one,” Glen wrote.

Items like these don’t necessarily mean breaking the bank, although some did say the high price of Danish-made clothes put them off new purchases.

“Wear ‘quality’ items of clothing… even if recycled,” Glen wrote.

Contrasting trainers

I was once told by a Dane that you can get away with wearing almost anything, no matter how scruffy or worn, as long as you have a smart pair of shoes.

However, it may be that trainers – possibly white ones to contrast with the dark prominent in the rest of the outfit – are the key to successfully pulling off Danish style.

“Wearing trainers – no matter what the rest of the outfit is” is a typical choice, Edward Horton, an automation scientist who lives in Copenhagen, said.

“Comfortable shoes trump style choices,” Edward said.

Reader Linda (not the same Linda quoted earlier) said that footwear featured a “rejection of high heels even with evening gowns”.

A “long large dress with running shoes” is a common pick for women, Ana wrote.

Those wanting to take inspiration from this style should “find a long nice long dress, or nice jeans with a nice viscose shirt (but try find it in a non-Danish brand because it’s always too long or too broad)”, she said.

“Also try to go for the sneakers (instead of the running shoes),” she said.

Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

“I am really not a fan of the Danish fashion but I like the fact that people can dress freely without too much pressure,” she added.

If you don’t want to wear trainers, Birkenstock sandals might be a strong summer alternative, having been cited by several of our readers as a typical footwear choice for Danes.

Don’t show off

“Minimal style, monochromatic clothes, oversized t-shirts, straight lines. People don’t usually show off brands,” wrote Andrea from Italy who lives in Copenhagen.

“Go for simple outfits and keep it laid back” if you want to look like a Dane, Andrea said.

“Not too many patterns, no high heels for women. Wear a nice shirt or t-shirt, cozy pants and sneakers. Don’t mix too many colours but match one or two in a pleasant way.”

“The best aspect is that Danish fashion is oriented towards coziness and effectiveness, and the fact that nobody generally shows off how expensive their clothes are contributes to convey a general feeling of equality in society,” Andrea said.

“On the other hand, this means there is little room for creativity and ‘crazy’ outfits if you like them. You can of course still wear them but you would stand out (and not necessarily in a good way).”

Get the fit right

Avoid “overly tight clothes and poorly fitted garments,” reader Nico said.

One of the weaker aspects of Danish fashion in Nico’s view is “sometimes the silhouette of the body can be lost in overly shapeless garments”, he said.

Others, such as Ann, a scientist from Copenhagen, said that using “oversized items” along with neutral colours would be the best way to mimic the Danish style.

While many praised Danish clothing for its well-cut designs, many observed the popularity of baggy items.

“Oversized blazers, muted colour pallet, New Balance sneakers, or Nike AF1 in triple white” were the best tips Vijay, an ICT Officer in Copenhagen, would give to someone who wanted to dress like a Dane.

He questioned the choice of oversized blazers: “why though? Nineties is back?”