Ahhhh. Now I get it.
The US version of HoC left me colder than Claire Underwood’s smile, so I searched Netflix for the original UK version. Oh boy oh boy oh boy, it is fantastic.
OK, it is a bit dated and clunky and you have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to parts of the plot (like, everyone running for party leadership gets horribly smeared, apart from Francis Urquhart – does no-one think this is suspicious? Why does no-one check up on who set up those dodgy bank accounts and that accommodation address that implicates the Prime Minister’s brother? Would a single, confusing kidnap attempt on the King be enough to swing the polls against the monarch? Or am I being picky?). But this is deeper and darker than the US series, and much faster paced.
It is also much wittier (this may be because I don’t get the US political system the way I do the British one). The scene with the King in a posh Chelsea restaurant ordering just soup, bread and water, and everyone else miserably following suit was excellent. Michael Kitchen is also utterly convincing as the principled but troubled monarch.
The relationship between Urquhart and young reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker) is deeply disturbing – his wife actually suggests they have an affair in order to cement Mattie’s loyalty, and Mattie calls Urquhart ‘Daddy’ **shivers**. She’s not such a dutiful daughter though – she has taped all their conversations, and the question of who has those tapes is one that tantalisingly underpins the whole series.
As Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey is ruthlessly ambitious, to the point of murder. As Francis Urquhart, Ian Richardson is a psychopath. While he gets flashbacks over Mattie’s (opportunist) murder, he has no such regrets about poor Roger, whom he killed by cutting his cocaine with rat poison. Shooting two young men in Cyprus in the 1950s is mentioned almost in passing to icy wife Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), who makes Lady Macbeth look like a warm and caring human being. He has no regrets about any of it – even toppling the King is seen as a necessary step to ensure his own survival.
Ian Richardson brought all the weight of his Shakespearean background to the role of Urquhart – at times charming, sinister, persuasive and jocular; but always mesmerisingly powerful.
He may be vile, but Urquhart is very, very clever. He plays everyone, and he plays them brilliantly. And although he is a callous and ruthless murderer we root for him. The ending doesn’t disappoint – it is the most satisfactory result for all concerned (except that poor Cypriot bloke, obvs).
The superb acting makes up for the plot holes – this is a thriller after all, not a political drama. The only thing that made me frown was the part of Corder (Nick Brimble), Urquhart’s omnipotent body guard, who seemed to have infinite resources and influence. He arranges for car bombs, cover-ups, informers and snipers, all the while shadowing Urquhart and (presumably) banging Elizabeth.
House of Cards UK has made me re-evaluate House of Cards US. If we are meant to view Frank Underwood as a psychopath instead of a ruthless politician, and if Claire is about to come onside and validate all his Machiavellian moves, then it is worth another look.
I was also told the US series follows the UK one in some plot details, and if that means odious thumb-sucking Zoe Barnes is about to get pushed off a building then I will be tuning right back in for season two.
Things I think about while I defluff the dryer:
- Double breasted suits. I forgot men used to wear these. Only twenty years later and they look so baggy and odd.
- When being black was a thing. Two major roles are played by black women,and just in case we don’t notice, other characters can’t help but refer to their skin colour.
- Talcum powder! Those little cylinders of talcum powder that used to come in Christmas gift sets with aftershave. Just the right size for putting in your toilet bag and hiding your cocaine in. Why does no-one use talcum powder any more?