|House of Cards|
|Based on||House of Cards|
by Michael Dobbs
|Written by||Andrew Davies|
|Directed by||Paul Seed|
|Music by||Jim Parker|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||4|
|Running time||55 minutes|
|Original release||18 November –|
9 December 1990
|Followed by||To Play the King|
The Final Cut
House of Cards is a 1990 British political thriller television serial in four episodes, set after the end of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It was televised by the BBC from 18 November to 9 December 1990, to critical and popular acclaim.
The story tells the manipulative and sudden rise to power of the machiavellian Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, Francis Urquhart. Urquhart, on the party's classical extreme right, is frustrated over his lack of promotion in the wake of Thatcher's resignation and the moderate government that succeeds it. Thus, he plots an extremely calculated and meticulous plan to bring down the Prime Minister and replace him, in vein of Shakespeare's Richard III (which he often quotes). During this drawn-out, ruthless coup, his life is complicated by his relationship with young female reporter Mattie Storin, whom he uses to leak sensitive information in confidence. The question of whether the serial's ending is a tragedy (in vein of plays such as Macbeth) is left to the viewer.
Andrew Davies adapted the story from the 1989 novel of the same name by Michael Dobbs, a former chief of staff at Conservative Party headquarters. Neville Teller also dramatised Dobbs's novel for BBC World Service in 1996, and it had two television sequels (To Play the King and The Final Cut). The opening and closing theme music for this TV series is entitled "Francis Urquhart's March".
House of Cards was ranked 84th in the British Film Institute list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes in 2000. In 2013, the serial and the Dobbs novel were the basis for a US adaptation set in Washington, D.C., commissioned and released by Netflix as the first ever major streaming service television show. This version was also entitled House of Cards, and starred Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
The antihero of House of Cards is Francis Urquhart, a fictional Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, played by Ian Richardson. The plot follows his amoral and manipulative scheme to become leader of the governing party and, thus, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Michael Dobbs did not envisage writing the second and third books, as Urquhart dies at the end of the first novel. The screenplay of the BBC's dramatisation of House of Cards differs from the book, and hence allows future series. Dobbs wrote two following books, To Play the King and The Final Cut, which were televised in 1993 and 1995, respectively.
House of Cards was said to draw from Shakespeare's plays Macbeth and Richard III, both of which feature main characters who are corrupted by power and ambition. Richardson has a Shakespearean background and said he based his characterisation of Urquhart on Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard III.
Urquhart frequently talks through the camera to the audience, breaking the fourth wall.
After Margaret Thatcher's resignation, the ruling Conservative Party is about to elect a new leader. Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), a Member of Parliament (MP) and the Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons, introduces viewers to the contestants, from which Henry "Hal" Collingridge (David Lyon) emerges victorious. Urquhart is secretly contemptuous of the well-meaning but weak Collingridge, but expects a promotion to a senior position in the Cabinet. After the general election, which the party wins by a reduced majority, Urquhart submits his suggestions for a reshuffle that includes his desired promotion. However, Collingridge – citing Harold Macmillan's political demise after the 1962 Night of the Long Knives – effects no changes at all. Urquhart resolves to oust Collingridge, with encouragement from his wife, Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher).
At the same time, with Elizabeth's blessing, Urquhart begins an affair with Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), a junior political reporter at a Conservative-leaning tabloid newspaper called The Chronicle. The affair allows Urquhart to manipulate Mattie and indirectly skew her coverage of the Conservative leadership contest in his favour. Mattie has an apparent Electra complex; she finds appeal in Urquhart's much older age and later refers to him as "Daddy". Another unwitting pawn is Roger O'Neill (Miles Anderson), the party's cocaine-addicted public relations consultant.
Urquhart blackmails O'Neill into leaking information on budget cuts that humiliates Collingridge during the Prime Minister's Questions. Later, he blames party chairman Lord "Teddy" Billsborough (Nicholas Selby) for leaking an internal poll showing a drop in Tory numbers, leading Collingridge to sack him. As Collingridge's image suffers, Urquhart encourages ultraconservative Foreign Secretary Patrick Woolton (Malcolm Tierney) and Chronicle owner Benjamin Landless (Kenny Ireland) to support his removal. He also poses as Collingridge's alcoholic brother Charles (James Villiers) to trade shares in a chemical company about to benefit from advance information confidential to the government. Consequently, Collingridge becomes falsely accused of insider trading and is forced to resign.
In the ensuing leadership race, Urquhart initially feigns unwillingness to stand before announcing his candidacy. With the help of his underling, Tim Stamper (Colin Jeavons), Urquhart goes about making sure his competitors drop out of the race: Health Secretary Peter MacKenzie (Christopher Owen) accidentally runs his car over a disabled protester at a demonstration staged by Urquhart and is forced by the public outcry to withdraw, while Education Secretary Harold Earle (Kenneth Gilbert) is blackmailed into withdrawing when Urquhart anonymously sends pictures of him in the company of a rent boy whom Earle had paid for sex.
The first ballot leaves Urquhart to face Woolton and Michael Samuels, the moderate Environment Secretary supported by Billsborough. Urquhart eliminates Woolton by a prolonged scheme: at the party conference, he pressures O'Neill into persuading his personal assistant and lover, Penny Guy (Alphonsia Emmanuel), to have a one-night stand with Woolton in his suite, which Urquhart records via a bugged ministerial red box. When the tape is sent to Woolton, he is led to assume that Samuels is behind the scheme and backs Urquhart in the contest. Urquhart also receives support from Collingridge, who is unaware of Urquhart's role in his own downfall. Samuels is forced out of the running when the tabloids reveal that he backed leftist causes as a student at University of Cambridge.
Stumbling across contradictions in the allegations against Collingridge and his brother, Mattie begins to dig deeper. On Urquhart's orders, O'Neill arranges for her car and flat to be vandalised in a show of intimidation. However, O'Neill becomes increasingly uneasy with what he is being asked to do, and his cocaine addiction adds to his instability. Urquhart mixes O'Neill's cocaine with rat poison, causing him to kill himself when taking the cocaine in a motorway service station lavatory on the M27 at Rownhams. Though initially blind to the truth of matters thanks to her relations with Urquhart, Mattie eventually deduces that Urquhart is responsible for O'Neill's death and is behind the unfortunate downfalls of Collingridge and all of Urquhart's rivals.
Mattie looks for Urquhart at the point when it seems his victory is certain. She eventually finds him on the roof garden of the Houses of Parliament, where she confronts him. He admits to O'Neill's murder and everything else he has done. He then asks whether he can trust Mattie, and, though she answers in the affirmative, he does not believe her and throws her off the roof onto a van parked below. An unseen person picks up Mattie's tape recorder, which she had been using to secretly record her conversations with Urquhart. The series ends with Urquhart defeating Samuels in the second leadership ballot and being driven to Buckingham Palace to be invited to form a government by Elizabeth II.
In the first novel, but not in the television series:
Before the series was reissued in 2013 to coincide with the release of the US version of House of Cards, Dobbs rewrote portions of the novel to bring the series in line with the television series and restore continuity among the three novels. In the 2013 version:
The first installment of the TV series coincidentally aired two days before the Conservative Party leadership election. During a time of "disillusionment with politics", the series "caught the nation's mood".
Ian Richardson won a Best Actor BAFTA in 1991 for his role as Urquhart, and Andrew Davies won an Emmy for outstanding writing in a miniseries.
The series ranked 84th in the British Film Institute list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.
Main article: House of Cards (American TV series)
The Urquhart trilogy has been adapted in the United States as House of Cards. The show stars Kevin Spacey as Francis "Frank" Underwood, the Majority Whip of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, who schemes and murders his way to becoming President of the United States. It is produced by David Fincher and Spacey's Trigger Street Productions, with the initial episodes directed by Fincher.
The series, produced and financed by independent studio Media Rights Capital, was one of Netflix's first forays into original programming. Series one was made available online on 1 February 2013. The series is filmed in Baltimore, Maryland. The first series was critically acclaimed and earned four Golden Globe Nominations, including Best Drama, actor, actress and supporting actor, with Robin Wright winning best actress. It also earned nine Primetime Emmy Award nominations, winning three, and was the first show to earn nominations that was broadcast solely via an internet streaming service.
The drama introduced and popularised the phrase: "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment". It was a non-confirmation confirmative statement, used by Urquhart whenever he could not be seen to agree with a leading statement, with the emphasis on either the "I" or the "possibly", depending on the situation. The phrase was even used in the House of Commons, House of Lords and Parliamentary Committees following the series. Prince Charles himself said the phrase in response to a provocative question from a journalist in 2014.
A variation on the phrase was written into the TV adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather for the character Death, as an in-joke on the fact that he was voiced by Richardson.
During the first Gulf War, a British reporter speaking from Baghdad, conscious of the possibility of censorship, used the code phrase "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment" to answer a BBC presenter's question.
A further variation was used by Nicola Murray, a fictional government minister, in the third series finale of The Thick of It.
In the US adaptation, the phrase is used by Frank Underwood in the first episode during his initial meeting with Zoe Barnes, the US counterpart of Mattie Storin.