Much as with real life, the most exciting moments in British politics take place during Questions to the Prime Minister.
I was amused and entertained, but not wowed, by the 1990 BBC miniseries House of Cards, the first installment in the Ian Richardson-led the House of Cards Trilogy (House of Cards / To Play the King / The Final Cut). After my enjoyment of the BBC political miniseries State of Play and the HBO-BBC miniseries Five Days, I was intrigued to see House of Cards, which was a widely regarded television event in the UK – even if it wasn’t terribly high brow.
It was a true political thriller, and I reflected as much in my review of it; however, where I appreciated the depth of character development and multiple, fully detailed plot arcs in State of Play (reviewed here) and the subtlety of Five Days (reviewed here), House of Cards really featured neither. It seemed rushed and really focused solely on Richardson’s Francis Urquhart and his relationship with reporter Mattie Storen.
Unfortunately, the second and third segments of the series don’t really improve on things. The best that can be said of them is that they took up only two discs in total on the Netflix queue, even though they pack in a combined seven hours of telly over eight episodes. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, as they are entertaining… just not great.
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Richardson's Urquhart and Harker's Storin are at the heart of the storyline.
On Netflix recommendation by virtue of the degree to which I enjoyed State of Play (BBC miniseries version), I rented another BBC miniseries involving political intrigue and backroom scandal. House of Cards was based on the Michael Dobbs book by the same name. Set in the late 1980s at the end of the Thatcher era, the plot follows a majority, Conservative Party whip in his attempt to wrest political position and power.
Ian Richardson plays Francis Urquhart, the whip who keeps the “back bench” in order — in other words, he’s the guy that keeps the party regulars in the House of Commons in line for the party leadership. The whip is an essential role in any parliamentary structure, including the House of Commons and the US Congress.
The portrayal of the whip’s traditionally unexercised power is convincing and believable. Urquhart has dirt on just about every other character and beats them into line for the party leadership. Where things start to skew toward dramatic intrigue is set off by Urquhart being turned down for a promotion to Home Secretary upon the election of a new PM who relied heavily on the whip’s support to get elected. Urquhart launches a grand and well thought out scheme to destroy the PM and become the front runner to replace him.
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