Borgen gets more than politics right

Acclaimed TV series Bail, about a fictional first female prime minister of Denmark, has just “dropped” its fourth season, arguably the best yet. I devoured the box-set of seasons one to three a decade ago. Never had I imagined becoming so utterly caught up in a show about politics, set in a country about which I knew precious little.

Half the appeal lies in the performance of Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays the titular role of Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg. I could watch the captivating Knudsen reading a phone book of bewildering (to this ignorant Anglo) Danish names.

Half the appeal of Borgen lies in the performance of Sidse Babett Knudsen who plays the Danish prime minister.

The thing that sold me utterly on season four, however, was its startlingly realistic portrayal of a menopausal woman, without pandering to stereotypes. Sure, the ever-ambitious Nyborg is crankier than she used to be, but this is revealed to be less due to her hormones than her essential loneliness.

In one profoundly moving scene, where her adult son challenges her as to why power has recently become the most important thing in her life, she says, simply: “But back then, I had you guys.”

Hot flushes might be a cliche but there’s a reason for that. Nyborg has to leave a meeting and cool herself down in the bathroom, running her face and wrists under cold water, untucking and flapping her blouse. Most women who have endured menopause know only too well that desperate feeling akin to instantaneously spiking a temperature high enough to land you in hospital.

And who among people who menstruate have never messaged a friend or colleague, “tampon, urgent!” as Nyborg does at the start of a vital meeting with the Chinese ambassador, before racing to the bathroom and craning her neck to see if she has a blood stain on her skirt.

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She peers into the mirror to pull out stray facial whiskers. She even has a ball under her desk on which to rub the underside of her foot, something I spent hours doing as a victim of plantar fasciitis, that painful condition which often affects women of a certain age.

I hope women everywhere are cheering as Nyborg so convincingly portrays a remarkable human being who happens to be enduring menopause. Welcome to our world, fellas.

May there be many more realistic portrayals of how women live. Not many of us are in parliament, but menopause, menstruation, period pain, childbirth, breastfeeding, struggling to be able to afford pads – are the ordinary things my half of the population live with and, despite this, still manage to do all we do.

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