Greenlandic politician turned TV Star – Svend Hardenberg (53) – was initially hired by Netflix to show the Borgen production team Greenland's culture, nature, and politics and to provide real facts. "We showed them the real issues between Greenland and Denmark, resulting in parts of the script being rewritten," Hardenberg explains.
When the Danish Netflix series Borgen decided to shoot its fourth season in Greenland after a nearly ten-year-long hiatus, the producers realized how little they knew about the world’s largest island. So little that parts of the script, as well as some of the main characters, had to be rewritten.
Greenlandic politician now turned TV Star – Svend Hardenberg (53) – was initially hired by Netflix to give the production team a crash course in Greenland culture, nature, and politics and to provide real facts about Greenland.
“We learned a lot about how little we knew,” says Borgen director Per Fly.
The season - which aired on Netflix in June - focuses on a geopolitical crisis brewing in Greenland. Netflix has said that they wanted to revive the series and place it into the present by putting current international agendas at stake.
The season was described as a game of power, where relations with Greenland are put to the test, and both the USA and China become key players when an oil discovery in North Greenland disturbs the relationship between Greenland and Denmark and the geopolitical balance, as the discovery of oil could either finance Greenlandic independence or benefit Denmark.
The plot also circles around the implications this could have for the climate crisis as well as a country and a people still very much in the process of decolonization.
Along with Hardenberg and the Danish Ambassador to the Arctic, Thomas Winkler, Fly talked about how art mirrors life from the stage at the Arctic Circle Assembly last weekend.
“After the trip, parts of the script were rewritten, and I was offered the part as Greenlandic Minister of Foreign Affairs and Natural Resources, Hans Eliassen,” says Hardenberg, who is a real-life politician in Greenland and had never acted before.
For both the Netflix production team and the fresh actor, the learning process was steep.
Hardenberg's original character was meant to be more of a romantic, confused figure. But Fly quickly realized that this is not the nature of politicians on the Arctic Island at all. Nor the Greenlandic people.
Yes, tension is rising
"I made it clear that the Greenlandic people had to recognize their land in the series. There are real issues between Denmark and Greenland and I wanted to put pressure on Denmark in this story," says Per Fly, who spent a lot of time talking with Hardenberg and the Greenlandic people.
Together, Fly and Hardenberg rebuilt the character. They describe it as a lot of work, but Hardenberg has first-hand knowledge from the political world as he has been a politician, senior government official, and business owner. He also comes from a family of politicians.
In the end, reactions from the public were good, the pair says.
“People respected the portrayal of Greenland as the new, modern country it is today," says Fly.
Real-life Arctic Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark Thomas Winkler, confirms that the series is a realistic take on the current geopolitical situation.
“Although real life is not as dramatic as on TV,” says Winkler with a laugh.
“But yes, tension is rising. The richness of the region is more accessible and is moving forward,” says the Ambassador.
No oil drilling
Greenland is absolutely on the world's geopolitical game board, in real life as well as in Borgen, and director Per Fly says he is grateful that he had access to the Greenlandic politicians along the way, like Prime Minister Mute B. Egede.
But contrary to the series, in reality, Greenland has decided to completely stop further oil and gas exploration to make the country more sustainable. The Greenlandic government also stopped the exploration of uranium in Kuannersuit in South Greenland.
But these resources are the reason powerful nation-states like the United States and China have a special interest in Greenland. Greenland is also a hotspot for climate change and during his Arctic Circle speech, Prime Minister of Greenland Mute B. Egede made it clear that no drilling of oil will take place on his watch.
Hardenberg says he is happy with the result and convinced that the time the authors spent in Greenland helped them to fully understand the issues.
"You can only research up to a certain point from afar."
However, since the show premiered, reviews in the Greenlandic press have been mixed.
“It quickly becomes a caricatured depiction of a beautiful land with noble people who are submissive,” wrote Member of the Folketing and Inuit Ataqatigiit, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen in Sermitsiaq.
- A Danish political drama TV series, created by screenwriter Adam Price, which gathered great acclaim across the world.
- It ran for 3 seasons between 2010 and 2013, and after a near-decade hiatus, the new season is on DR in Denmark and on Netflix.
- Meaning “The Castle” in Danish, the name Borgen is the nickname for Christiansborg castle in Copenhagen. It is the House of Parliament and The Queen and the Prime Minister’s office also have a base there.
- Last year, the BBC made a list of the 100 best TV series and Borgen ended up in 40th place.
- Previous a colony of Denmark that became a constituency in 1953.
- Granted Home Rule in 1979 and Self Rule in 2009.
- Under the Self-Rule Act, Greenland has the right to self-determination and the option of independence.
- Greenland is part of the Danish Commonwealth.
- Greenland is still financially dependent upon Denmark, as the country bolsters the Government of Greenland’s economy with an equivalent of approximately DK 3.8 billion per year.