So, I’ve been working my way through the American version of House of Cards, and, well, I’ve had quite enough of that for a while.
So, let’s see what the British version is like for the next couple weeks.
Well. I liked this much better so far.
See, one of the issues I have with the American version is that the politics in the series doesn’t seem quite right. Writer Andrew Davies worked on both versions, and seeing the procedures invested in crowning a new Prime Minister suggests that a Whip has a lot more power to crown a Head of Government in Great Britain than in the United States. That was Frank Underwood’s original beef: he threw a lot of support in the direction of a new president with the promise of being selected Secretary of State, and when that fell through, he decided to get revenge. How does the support of any member of Congress have that much power? Now, transfer that to a Parliament where the majority party chooses the Prime Minister, something closer to the American Speaker of the House and it makes a lot more sense.
So, here we have Francis Urquhart, as played by English actor Ian Richardson. Kevin Spacey chews scenery as Frank Underwood, disguising political experience and knowledge as some sort of folksy wisdom. Underwood came from a small, Southern town and grew up poor. Urquhart, on the other hand, is from a moneyed background. He believes in giving back, but also that he deserves, well, something. He’s quiet, soft-spoken, and when he addresses the camera to explain what’s going on, he does so in a manner that suggests a more refined man than most of the other members of Parliament around him. Frank Underwood implies the works of Shakespeare going on in the background. Francis Urquhart quotes Macbeth directly, and then his ambitious wife goes full-on Lady Macbeth. Yes, Claire Underwood is first seen consenting with Frank’s nebulous plans in the pilot. Then there is Elizabeth Urquhart practically dictating the plans to her more hesitant husband. Supplanting the new Prime Minister seems to be more her idea.
The story beats are still familiar. A young, female reporter (from a more politically-aligned newspaper this time) is being brought in to spread misinformation and also to have some sort of sanctioned affair with Francis. He’s blackmailing other members with various indiscretions, like the fellow with the coke habit (instead of drinking) that is also carrying on with his aide. If anything, the MPs are a bit worse as Francis can bring more than one under his thumb and then puts on a disguise to set up a fake bribery charge on the PM’s brother.
This series is actually over 20 years old at this point, but it already got the title of the show more right than the current American one. Contemplating a framed photo of Margaret Thatcher, Urquhart’s first line to the audience is to note that nobody stays in power forever.
He’s going to be fighting for it all the same.