It’s a sad symptom of our age that we are cynical about our politicians. Regardless of the fact that there are genuinely “good eggs” across most parties, such rarities are ignored amongst the wave of hostility we have towards our political class. They are all, we think, self-serving liars, detached from the needs of ordinary people.
It’s surprising, then, that some of the post popular political fiction involves characters who are notable for their excellence. Perhaps, though, it’s to be expected – why shouldn’t we use fiction to dream of what could be? A prime example would be Jed Bartlett, the President of the USA in the fictional series The West Wing. To be honest, I never got into that show. For some reason, despite having been incredibly politically aware and interested in the past, I was never really grabbed by political fiction. I’m not sure why – perhaps because reality was often stranger.
Anyway, maybe the epitome of the chasm between political reality and political fiction was the reported signs saying something like “Bartlett is my President” held by the crowds as George W Bush was sworn in as an all too real president. At least I think I recall that correctly, though I can’t find any reference to it online.
Anyone swept along by one of the quiet successes of television in this country would recognise a couple of other fictional examples of model politicians: Troels Hartmann and Thomas Buch. I am of course talking about the Danish murder mystery series The Killing (Forbrydelsen, in Danish).
The Killing I and II were both excellent, gripping, edge of the seat dramas featuring the very driven and focussed detective Sarah Lund. In each, her steely resolution, lack of warmth towards colleagues and of course her Faroese jumpers have made her and The Killing as a whole quite a star. Though in both series, the murders’ consequences reached into the political spheres, with parallel plots featuring a politician who found himself wrapped up in the gruesome proceedings.
In the first, Troels Hartmann was a young, dynamic and likeable local politician desperately trying to brush off what turn out to be unfounded connections with the murder of a young girl while at the same time fighting a mayoral election camaign. In the second series, we meet Thomas Buch, a young and inexperienced MP who is appointed justice minister and uncovers potential cover-ups of murders that his superiors are desperate to sweep under the carpet. The political dimensions to the storylines are so central that they are not so much sub-plots to the murder investigations as co-plots.
In both cases, the politicians were portrayed as truth-driven, determined and honest, a thoroughly refreshing antedote to the cynicism we have about politicians here. Admittedly in the second series the consequence of Buch’s terrier-like pursuit of the truth is that his talent is recognised and he is finally tempted into the very inner circle he’s been trying to implicate. But it’s a significantly more positive portrayal of a politician than you get in most British dramas. It’s hard to imagine a British political thriller with such likeable central characters being as popular as The Killing has been.
And, thankfully, there is more of this to come. The makers of The Killing have now come up with an entirely political drama, which like The Killing has also been snapped up by BBC4. Called Borgen, it contains all of the moody drama – and some of the actors – of The Killing, but minus the body count. A deep, unpredictable and gripping drama, Borgen is basically The Killing, without… er, the killing.
We’re two episodes in now, and I’m really enjoying it. The central character is a leader of a relatively minor Danish political party who fights her way to becoming the country’s first female Prime Minister. A number of storylines seem to be emerging, including the lies, secrets and plotting in the world of both media and government, but the new female PM is presented as a humane, fresh and personable character, again something it’s hard to see most British political dramas doing.
There’s been some backstabbing, a death, and quite a bit of wheeling and dealing, plus some gorgeous shots of Copenhagen which seems to have more than a little Edinburgh about it in its historic and political areas. But the main message is that – so far, at least – it’s possible to be both a good person and a successful politician.
That’s something worth noting in this cynical age.