House Of Cards (1990 – 1995 United Kingdom)

house-of-cards-500x271This is almost 11 hours (4 DVD’s) worth of top quality entertainment. The viewer’s life grinds to a halt to digest each segment. This is the kind of drama that makes the BBC world-famous. Nothing can beat it. The Americans wish they could create modern Shakespearean tragedies like this, but they lack the breeding and pedigree of an old world country. So is it worth buying, renting, borrowing or stealing? To quote the Right Honourable Francis Urquhart MP, “you might very well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment!”

Ian Richardson plays a show-stealing performance as Francis Urquhart, the government Chief Whip, who lies, cheats and tramples his way to Downing Street, leaving bodies, wannabe leaders, and carnage in his wake. The first in the series “House of Cards” sees Urquhart being snubbed and passed over for promotion by the Prime Minister Henry Collingridge (who I’m convinced is an imitation of John Major!). Urquhart vows revenge and we watch as he engineers Collingridge’s downfall. Urquhart runs for the leadership and after a nasty battle with rivals, he wins by cheating & blackmail. The ending to Part One is shocking and shows how far Urquhart is prepared to go to get what he wants. The ending to part one is something which is constantly brought up in parts 2 and 3.

The next in the series, “To Play the King” is possibly the most realistic of the three. When the powers that be are rattled by someone who upsets the apple cart, they will do anything to squash them. Urquhart is securely installed at number 10 when the Queen vacates her position (it isn’t made clear whether she dies or abdicates). Anyway, the next in line is the King (clearly imitating Prince Charles) and Michael Kitchen plays a fantastic King who decides that he is more important than the Prime Minister. He and Urquhart butt heads as each one tries to assert their authority over the other, and it isn’t helped by the King’s advisors who egg him on to directly confront Urquhart. Again, the ending to part two is shocking and brutal as Urquhart decides to silence those who are plotting against him.

The last in the series, “The Final Cut”.  This was my favourite. Urquhart is now in his 11th year as Prime Minister. He is set to beat Mrs Thatcher as the longest-serving Prime Minister but the public are tiring of him and want him out. His Foreign Secretary, Tom Makepeace, challenges his authority and Urquhart fires him for it. But instead of silencing him, being fired makes Makepeace decide he has nothing to lose and he decides to force Urquhart out. Meanwhile, Cyprus is about to get a peace agreement and Urquhart decides that he could use the situation to make a little pension fund for himself and also silence Makepeace into the bargain. But he never counted on a secret from his past to come back to hurt him…the ending to “The Final Cut” is both stunning and unexpected. The mistress of Tom Makepeace, Claire, is played by Isla Blair, who can always be counted on to whip em off and give it 100%.

Ian Richardson breathes fire and life into the character of Urquhart, and the changes to Michael Dobbs’ source novel makes the stories better, not worse. We also see how scheming and manipulative Mrs Urquhart is, and the thug of a protection officer, Corder, who is assigned to protect the Prime Minister. In each of the series, we see that Urquhart’s ultimate downfall is due to the female company he keeps. Each woman is a Judas and a Brutus, ready to stab him in the back. I especially like how Richardson often speaks directly into the camera as if he is directly talking to the viewers. It’s as if he is bringing you into his conspiracies and asking you to take part in his dirty work. Urquhart is devious, ruthless and will do whatever it takes. You will cheer him on as he campaigns against his enemies like a real British bulldog.

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