By the time Borgen won its BAFTA in 2012 foreign-language drama had become a mainstay of BBC Four’s schedule. The channel now routinely gains its biggest audiences for the Saturday night slot featuring high-brow, socially engaged series with slow-burning narratives and – most notably – subtitles. The Danish version of The Killing had already won in the international category at the previous year’s ceremony, and Borgen, nominated alongside The Killing II, consolidated the success of the acquisitions bought from Danish public service broadcaster Danmarks Radio, noticeably countering the dominant Anglophone trans-Atlantic flow of content (with three more hopefuls for the category in 2013 coming from DR).
On show here is the transformation of the award academy’s role in order to accommodate the internationalisation of the television industry. This is especially complicated in the context of Britain where the value of PSB has long been associated with the ‘gatekeeper’ role of producing and protecting the national culture against what Michael Tracy describes as the ‘smooth[ing] out the political geography of nations’ by the open market. We can view the BAFTA television awards’ International category as instrumental in discursively legitimating (certain kinds of) imports. Indeed, behind Kate Thornton’s slightly over-rehearsed chumminess, the winners’ obligatory self-deprecatory shock at their success and the emphasis on how the award proves the show to have not been ‘too Danish to travel’, we can see the (literally) ceremonial positioning of the series as a valuable element in the BBC’s national cultural offerings.
The shows lend themselves perfectly to this: the characters and taste cultures they represent – urbane but not glossy, socially-engaged but fashionably cosmopolitan – are readily tied to the culturally adventurous, 'intelligent' sensibility claimed by the channel-brand’s position as discerning curator for the mass of content churning around the international marketplace. In fact it’s not entirely accurate to say that Britain has got behind the shows; the audiences are high for the 'minority' channel, but still only amount to two or three per cent of all viewers. It is precisely the specialist, high-brow status of the imports (often described in the broadsheets as ‘savvy purchases’ or ‘hand-picked gems’) that underpins their value for BBC4 as it strives to mark out a legitimate but distinct position in the more and more international multi-channel landscape. More than simply the ‘quality’ of shows themselves, then, the award marks with national prestige the channel’s ‘embrace’ of niche content from foreign shores.