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The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the world’s healthiest and happiest cities. It consistently sits at the very top of the UN's happiness index and is one of the star performers in the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organisation (the latter currently celebrating its 30th Anniversary).

With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, this article presents Copenhagen's lessons for how to combat them culturally.

One of these lessons is that we don't do what we ought to do for our health – we do what we enjoy or what makes our lives easiest. Copenhagen planners have taken that fact on board in ways that many cities could learn from.

The key lesson in achieving happiness is perhaps this one:


It is no accident that the USA, whose current administration follows a philosoophy that appears to be the exact opposite, is far being a collectively happy place. Luckily, many parts of the USA (and many people) are not fans of the current administration, to put it mildly, and both happiness and hope are still to be found there.


If you like this...

[How to be a happy country: Lessons from Bhutan]


Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia on BBC Breakfast, talking about “The Bridge”


A couple of days ago we saw Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, stars of the mega-popular Scandi-hit The Bridge (finishing its second season here in the UK, with another season in production), appearing on BBC Breakfast. They are over here for London's Nordicana Festival, devoted to Nordic fiction and film.

It was particularly nice to meet the real Sofia, who has a charming and bubbly personality very different from that of Saga, the character she plays on television. Saga has an unspecified condition that might be Asperger's, a condition that makes her a brilliantly intuitive (and sometimes scary) detective who is almost totally deficient in inter-personal skills.

Kim is obviously a big fan of Sofia. “People ask me how I can work with someone without feelings - but when Sofia is acting, you see all of Saga's feelings in her eyes - so many feelings.”

Asked about any problems that came up between the Swedish and Danish languages, Sofia explained that the initial difficulties actually helped. “Being Saga is like being behind a glass wall. At the beginning it was very difficult... It demands a good one [Kim] to play against, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to do it.”

The Nordicana Festival, running in London at the beginning of February, is a remarkable illustration of how popular Nordic entertainment and literature has become over here (see my previous post, for instance).


If you're interested...

[More about The Bridge, and the “Scandinavian Invasion” generally, here on my web site]


Borgen III

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays Birgitte Nyborg
(image from this Danish article on her new English-language role in the forthcoming movie The Duke of Burgundy)

A sizeable part of England has pretty much fallen in love with this lady, whom we have just said goodbye to in the third and final season of Borgen. It has been IMO one of the best (and most enjoyable) political and human dramas that we are likely to see for quite some time.

It wasn't long ago that the idea of a subtitled foreign-language TV series grabbing a whole country's attention would have seemed crazy - particularly a series about coalition politics in a country of only some 4 millions voters. But that was before Wallander (with Krister Henniksson), The Killing (original Danish version), and The Bridge (now running its second season over here), made BBC4 a prime time channel.

On top of which, unlike the other Scandi-hits, Borgen is not a crime drama, but is every bit as gripping - thanks in no small part to its creator and main writer Adam Price (an interesting character in his own right). Adam made unlikely issues (such as unethical pig farming and hypocrisy over prostitution) so compelling in Borgen that they apparently affected real-life politics in Denmark.

In the final season Birgitte returns to politics from her spell in the international private sector - and eventually realises that she must take the apparently mad step of trying to form a new centre party. As before, her combination of womanly sex-appeal, gritty determination, political savvy (not infallible) and essential humanity make her a very different kind of “Iron Lady” from the famous one.

Also as in previous seasons, Borgen is far from a one-woman show. Katrine Fønsmark (played by the beautiful Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, nominated as “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series” at Monte Carlo in 2013), moves from journalism to a major role as Birgitte's media adviser and campaign manager. Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief (played by Søren Malling, Sarah Lund's sidekick in The Killing), finds himself sinking beneath personal and work problems, the latter due to the attempted dumbing-down of TV1 news in search of ratings (a cliff-hanging development that also threatens Birgitte's political success). Will he recover? Will the worm turn? And the formation of the new party brings in a collection of characters of different political shades, some of whom are old friends to Borgen viewers, some new, and all excellently portrayed.

While on the international circuit, Birgitte acquires a new (and thoroughly nice) English architect boyfriend, Jeremy Welsh (played by Alastair Mackenzie, also thoroughly nice in real life and best known for the well-loved TV Series Monarch of the Glen). Asked on BBC Breakfast to explain the appeal of Borgen to non-Danish viewers, he said that apart from Birgitte Nyborg herself, it was simply because the series was so good.

Adam Price's decision to draw a hard line under Borgen III allowed the story to reach a very satisfying (and unexpected) conclusion. It also liberated the small pool of Danish top-class dramatic talent to work on new projects, including one of his own (a new television drama in collaboration with House of Cards creator Michael Dobbs).

Fans of the Danish (and Swedish) TV hits have had some fun spotting how this small pool of Danish dramatic talent gets recycled between different productions. But now we are also getting used to seeing them appearing in British TV - e.g. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen appearing in Agatha Christie's Marple with Julia McKenzie (the recently aired episode Endless Night), and Lars Mikkelsen as the wonderfully repellent master villain Charles Augustus Magnussen in the cracking third and final episode of Sherlock (season 3), His Last Vow - and see the caption on the above image!

If you haven't seen Borgen but think you might like to, may I suggest this as your next stop!

If you like this...

[My posts on Nordic Noir]
[Borgen II]
[Borgen I]
[Birgitte Hjort Sørensen]

...and from the Movies / TV page of my web site

[The Scandinavian Invasion]



Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, one of many good reasons for watching the superb Danish political thriller Borgen
(see my previous post below)


Borgen II

A less likely scenario for a major television hit would be hard to imagine: a story about coalition politics, with a non-obvious title*, in a language even less familiar to most of us than Swedish, with subtitles...

However ever since the Swedish Wallander and the magnificent first Danish series of The Killing, Scandinavian police and political drama has attracted a large audience in the UK. BBC4 has established a prime time Saturday night slot, with multiple repeats through the week, for high quality original-language drama of this type (we are currently getting Spiral, a French import).

The second season of Borgen has sadly just come to an end, and it has been every bit as good as the first season. Thanks to great acting, direction and scripts, the main characters have somehow become part of our lives...

(If you click on one of my screenshots, in most cases you will get many more images of the actor.)

The wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, here coming to terms with the effect of her life pressures on her young teenage daughter


Mikael Birkkjær (a hearthrob for female viewers, I'm told) as Phillip Christensen, whose marriage to Birgitte fell apart in Series 1, but who is still part of Birgitte's life. We saw him as Detective Ulrik Strange in The Killing.


Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Katrine Fønsmark, a headstrong TV1 news anchor (whose attitude gets her an enforced leave of absence from TV1 to do other things), with Kasper Juul, the Prime Minister's media adviser. Katrine and Kasper each have relationships with other people, but keep gravitating irresistably together...


Johan Philip ("Pilou") Asbæk as Kasper Juul (also a hearthrob for female viewers, apparently). We saw Pilou in a wheelchair as the 3rd victim in The Killing II. Here he is meeting up with his demented mother, near to resolving his relationship-threatening history of child abuse.


Søren Malling as Torben Friis, TV1's editor-in-chief, here about to pronounce on whether Katrina can have her job back. Søren was superb as Sarah Lund's colleague and foil Jan Meyer in the first series of The Killing, and we also saw him as Major Kàrlis Liepa in the English version of Wallander, in an episode called "The Dogs of Riga".


Lars Knutzon as Bent Sejrø, some time Finance Minister, and always a good friend and mentor to Birgitte - one of many excellently-drawn minor characters without which Borgen wouldn't be as good as it is


Bjarne Henriksen as Hans Christian Thorsen, the Defence Minister, here listening to Birgitte in the Danish Parliament. His role in Borgen is a minor one, but in the first (and greatest) The Killing he was superb as Theis Birk Larsen, father of the murdered girl around whose death that story revolves... in 20 one-hour episodes.


Birgitte, delivering the "extraordinary statement" to the small Danish Parliament that closes Season 2 of Borgen

We're told that the third (and probably last) season will be transmitted in the UK in 2014 - I'm really looking forward to it!

*(Borgen, I discovered from Wikipedia, translates as "The castle", "The fortress" or "The burg", which is the nickname among Danish politicians for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.)


If you like this, you might like my other posts on...

[Nordic Noir]
[Borgen]



Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg in the new Danish TV masterpiece, the political thriller Borgen
(high def image from here)

If you like "Nordic Noir", and The Killing in particular, don't miss this new production from DR - it's a cracking political thriller of the highest quality. The first season of 10 1-hour episodes (no commercial breaks) has just started on BBC4, with at least one more season to come.

Update 13th Feb: This series, just completed on BBC4, has certainly not disappointed. Strictly speaking it is Nordic but not "Noir", although it shares with the Danish version of The Killing the same concentration on personal lives under stress (and several actors as well, Denmark being a small country!).

(Borgen, I discovered from Wikipedia, translates as "The castle", "The fortress" or "The burg", which is the nickname among Danish politicians for Christiansborg Palace, which houses all three of Denmark's branches of government: the Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court.)



If you like this...

[Nordic Noir (links)]    [Nordic Noir (in this blog)]


(Original post: March 26th, 2011)


A time of great sorrow is upon us here in the UK - the imminent end of a truly superb crime series, probably the best of the wave of excellent "Nordic Noir" that we have been enjoying in the last few years, which in 20 one-hour episodes has been following 20 days in a complex and fascinating investigation.

I could explain why I think it's so good, but I can't improve on the reasons given here.


[For more excellent "Nordic Noir" in previous reviews, click the nordic-noir tag at the top of this post...]


I came across this wonderful book in a BBC programme called "Nordic Noir", which has become a general term to describe the English-speaking world's new-found appreciation for the superb crime writing and television productions coming to us from Scandinavia.

This particular book's plot is well described here. What is harder to convey is the brilliant quality of the writing, even in translation. I am reminded in a way of those wonderful movies like Doctor Zhivago, shot in 70mm and shown on a very large screen, with every scene full of many tiny crisp details. Nowadays we would describe those movies as being shot in "high definition", and Peter Hoeg's book is the literary equivalent - "high definition writing", if you like. He makes you feel and see every detail around you, and they are fascinating details woven into a highly gripping and unusual plot.

Highly recommended.

P.S.

My favourite online book store isn't Amazon, it's Abebooks.com (Abebooks.co.uk in the UK). This is the Advanced Book Exchange, a Canadian-based site that links you up with just about every second-hand bookshop on the planet. If you have never tried it, follow the links to see what you have been missing!




If you like this...

[Brian's Place - The Book corner]