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When Nicola met Birgitte: Is Borgen the way ahead?

ONE is a fictional head of government, the other among Scotland's most senior female politicians.

MEETING OF MINDS: Borgen actress Sidse Babett Knudsen and Nicola Sturgeon.
MEETING OF MINDS: Borgen actress Sidse Babett Knudsen and Nicola Sturgeon.

Yesterday, they came face to face in an Edinburgh cinema as actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, better known as on screen alter ego Birgitte Nyborg in Danish political drama Borgen, met Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Following in the footsteps of crime thriller The Killing, the show is the latest subtitled television import from Denmark to tap into the zeitgeist and become the hot topic of water-cooler conversation.

Ms Sturgeon has made no secret of her love for the hit BBC Four series which has become a cult Saturday night staple with viewing figures topping one million. In recent weeks, the SNP politician posted on Twitter: "OK, everyone, wheest – it's Borgen time," lest anyone be wondering how she was spending her evening.

But, as the final episodes of series two were aired on Saturday night, Ms Sturgeon was not, as she perhaps may have liked, in front of the television, but at a Burns Supper in East Kilbride.

Subsequently, she spend much of yesterday trying to dodge "spoilers" ahead of introducing a special screening of the show at Edinburgh's Filmhouse where Knudsen was hosting a series of Q&A sessions with loyal Borgen fans.

The latest series of Borgen has tackled the thorny issues of immigration, withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan, sexual abuse, infidelity, frivolous spending at the taxpayers' expense, party infighting, backstabbing and shrewd outmanoeuvring.

Ms Sturgeon said: "People ask me: 'Is it realistic?' and the honest answer to that is, not really. But it is, without a doubt, the most authentic political drama I've ever watched.

"I like it because I suppose, in Denmark, it gives us a glimpse of the kind of country we might be: a small country making a big impact.

"It shows politicians in a good light, not as perfect or flawless, she [Nyborg] is perfectly capable of deploying the dark arts, but comes across as a decent human being.

"What is nice about Borgen is it portrays this obviously strong, confident, clever and articulate woman, but you also see her human side and the fact that she occasionally has self-doubt, which everyone does.

"You see her vulnerability, the traumas she goes through in her family life and kicking off her high heels at the end of a busy day. All of that, for women in politics, is something you can kind of relate to."

The Deputy First Minister laughed off the notion, however, of a similar TV drama based on Holyrood. "Obviously things like illicit one-night stands with Government drivers just doesn't happen in Holyrood," she said.

"We are all capable of the skullduggery side of politics, but in my experience – and this crosses the political divide – most politicians are decent people in it for the right reasons."

It has been claimed Scotland could learn a lot from Borgen and indeed Denmark, also a small nation of some five million people, when it comes to our own political aspirations for independence. But Knudsen was reluctant to be drawn on such themes. She may be an actress in real life, but she certainly knows how to give a politician's answer.

"I'd rather not," she replied diplomatically when asked to give her thoughts on Scottish independence, prompting loud roars of laughter from the packed audience.

Resplendent in a sharp red and black tartan suit, Knudsen was certainly, whether intentionally or not, flying the flag for Scottish patriotism which seemed to go down well with her rapt public. Not that any of them needed winning over. The event sold all 280 tickets within five minutes of going on sale last month, seeing organisers add two extra screenings which were also swiftly snapped up.

Yet, some of the star-struck audience appeared unable to differentiate between fact and fiction. One man asked if the actor who played right-wing politician Svend Age Saltum, played by Ole Thestrup, was as awful in real life.

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