Saturday, 7 June 2014

House of Cards (1990)

Some or all of you are likely to be more familiar with the Netflix series of the same name, but this is the original mini-series adaptation of Michael Dobbs's novel.  I was a big fan of the show when I originally saw it back in the late 1990s, but does it still hold up nearly 25 years after it was made?

The answer is not entirely.  Not because the show is any worse now than then, though it is notably dated by political and technological developments that would render may of the main character's ploys impossible today, but because of the aforementioned Netflix series.  The newer version is a much more extensive and ambitious project, already running 26 episodes (this had 4).  I've only watched the first season of it so far, but the extra time allowed by the longer format allows for a more nuanced and complex narrative, and feels more 'real' because the protagonist has to work a lot harder to succeed in it.

But that's enough spruiking of the new series.  This is still a fine bit of TV.  It trades pretty heavily on the charisma of its two leads, but fortunately they're up to the task.  Ian Richardson is excellent as the ruthless Francis Urquhart, while Sussanah Harker manages the difficult task of making her character smart but still credulous enough to be drawn into his web.

Urquhart is chief whip of the Conservative Party, responsible for keeping the rank and file MPs in line and adhering to government policy.  The party has recently won a narrow election victory and Urquhart has been promised a senior role in the new administration.

Instead, the incoming Prime Minister reneges on his earlier promise, insisting that Urquhart is too valuable in his current role and that the government could not survive without him.  Urquhart is initially dismissive of this statement when he discusses it with his wife, but she suggests that there is more truth in it than he realises: that he could bring down the Prime Minister, and take the job for himself.

So begins Urquhart's Machiavellian plan to seize the most senior postion in UK politics.  As I said before, said plan simply would not work today.  Even in the context of the late 80s or early 90s, I think some elements are dubious.  For a group of supposedly sophisticated politicians, his rivals sure do leap eagerly into the traps he lays for them.  The story tries to justify that, but I'm not sure it wholly succeeds.

Those quibbles aside, however, this is an engaging if rather cynical show, with strong performances at its core.  Worth checking out if you don't mind the bastardry, especially if you want something that's less time-intensive than the Netflix adaptation.

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