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"You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."
June 11, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

The recent Netflix House of Cards series starring Kevin Spacey was a remake of a very popular British political thriller of the same name that aired during the 90's. The show begins by tracking the dark political machinations and skullduggery of an urbane Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, who is conspiring to become Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher's resignation.

The three-part, 12 episode House of Cards series was adapted from three novels written by Michael Dobbs, a former Chief of Staff at Conservative Party headquarters. The show provided an interesting example of life imitating art: Thatcher really did resign as the first series was airing.
The pacey and at times melodramatic plot is engaging but it is Ian Richardson's BAFTA-winning central performance which makes House of Cards so compelling. His depiction defines menace and cold cunning but his ultimate success lies in his ability to make Urquhart simultaneously loathsome and likeable. The audience may be repelled by his ruthlessness, but his wit, coolness, preening intelligence and conspiratorial asides to camera combine to make this minister a strangely charismatic monster. Richardson based his character on Richard III, and the serial offers other Shakespearian touches. Urquhart's wife is clearly a modern version of Lady Macbeth...
"Richardson inhabited the role so fully that he was utterly convincing and Francis Urquhart gained a lease of life in the real world. His motto - "You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment" - entered the political phrasebook and was quoted in the House of Commons."

The Episodes

Part 1: House of Cards (1990)
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

Part 2: To Play the King (1993)
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4

Part 3: The Final Cut (1995)
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
posted by zarq (91 comments total) 94 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've only watched the first series of this and haven't seen the Netflix version so I can't compare, but what I really love about it is how much its version of politics shares with horror movies
posted by edeezy at 12:42 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ian Richardson

Or as I like to call him, Mr. Blinky Lizard. He's great.

Kevin Spacey does okay, but really just plays Kevin Spacey with a stupid accent.
posted by Artw at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh noes, bad enough that I couldn't stop watching the Spacey copy cat series. Thanks a lot, evil zarq!
posted by bearwife at 12:47 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


As much as I love K-Space, the original is the best.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bearwife, you're welcome. MUA HA HA! Hope you enjoy.

(Richardson's Daily Mail obit called his character on this show "the epitome of elegant evil." How can you resist?)
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I bought the UK series on DVD a few years ago. It is horrifically, cynically wonderful, especially the twist at the end of Season 1, Episode 4. Some of the plotting is actually a little thin in later seasons, but it's still a superb series.
posted by jiawen at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2013


DAMMIT!

I read this great article that outlined Richardson's genius at making the viewers feel part of the conspiracy, like you were plotting with him, rather than just along for the ride. It's a much different feel than the Netflix series, in which we're tagging along with Underwood's schemes. But I can't find it now.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the big things I get from this series is how vulnerable politics is to people who are completely amoral. In the first, Urquhart's machinations work because no-one can imagine that he's been setting them up. In the second, the opposition to Urquhart proves ineffectual because they don't get what they're up against until far too late. Urquhart only gets defeated by people as underhanded and manipulative as he is.

As great as Richardson's Urquhart is, I also think it's worth mentioning Colin Jeavons' Tim Stamper. He's wonderful as Urquhart's henchman.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:59 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Richardson always manage to convey the understandable motives of even his least likeable or most distant characters. Watch the TV series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from the 1970s, or his worldweary-going-quietly-batshit Lord Groan from the (otherwise iffy) Gormenghast.

It's a shame he never had any of that bloody mustard, though ...
posted by scruss at 1:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This show was so good. Richardson is excellent, very suave, assured, and evil. He does this great thing where we see that Urquhart really does regret the things he does but he does them anyway, out of ambition and vanity. He's not at all unfeeling, and he betrays himself as much as everyone else. It's very subtle and prevents the show from becoming a lampoon. We see that Urquhart is his own victim, even as we are lured into rooting for a man who becomes increasingly monstrous.

That said, I found the 3rd season a disappointment -- it was more melodrama than drama.

I'm scared to watch the US version.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:11 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Richardson always manage to convey the understandable motives of even his least likeable or most distant characters.

Even better, the undercurrent of malignant class-horror in his portrayal of the Guy in the Grey Poupon Commercial. His "But of course" drips with the Blood of the Workers. I shudder every time!
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm scared to watch the US version.

It's different. I wouldn't call it bad, but I don't prefer it. Mostly it seems more sprawling - Season 1 gets you about halfway through the first Brit series in terms of plot movement but it goes of in lots of directions along the way.

Also it is inconceivable that anyone meets the Spacey character and doesn't instantaneously conclude they are dealing withn evil dick.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The UK's party system lends itself to much more compelling drama.
posted by duffell at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The American version had two problems: first, it didn't let us in on Underwood's scheme. As a result, we couldn't share in his victories or setbacks, because we didn't know what his aims were. It preserves mystery, but at the cost of engagement. After a while, I didn't care what he was doing because his motivations were unknown. That can work in short doses, but for twelve or thirteen hours? C'mon, man.

Second, okay, many people in Congress and the White House aren't the brightest bulbs in the world, granted. But virtually all of them know one thing very, very well: politics. Underwood's schemes often depend upon everyone else in Washington being inept at backroom politicking. Half of the time, his schemes would have unraveled if person A thought to talk to anyone about what Underwood told them about person B, or if person A had the faintest grasp of politics. To make Underwood look like a Machiavellian genius, they inflicted The Dumb on everyone else. Beating a bunch of chumps to advance didn't make him look brilliant; it raised the question of why he didn't do it sooner.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Watched the Spacey series and was kinda underwhelmed by it, so dug out the first series of original version to see if it actually was a good as I remembered. Turns out if was even better.

Part of the genius is that it first draws us into Urquhart's machinations and we enjoy his evil doing with as much glee as he does, but slowly and deliberately turns this around, until we are hating him by the end. The first time I saw the climax was one of the very few times I've audibly sworn at the television. Great theme tune too.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:35 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Are you a manipulative dick?"
"No."
"Are you lying?"
"No."
"Fair enough. Just assumed because of the whole being sinister thing and all. "
posted by Artw at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funnier if you imagine he actually does all the assides to camera in front of everyone.
posted by Artw at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


As a former and very minor political hack and staffer, I loved the Spacey/Fincher HoC. But it did not prepare me for how subversive the original series was, how completely lovely and evil Ian Richardson was.

In the time it takes the new series to establish a minor political machination, the original had brought down half of parlement, slept with their spouses, and made their children cry.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:42 PM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


The first BBC series is by far the best of them. the opening sequence of the 1st episode - first 5 or 10 mins or so are just extraordinarily well crafted.
posted by Bwithh at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2013


I found the US version flabby in the mid-section. It hits a lull while the main characters get away from the main story, he to minor issues, she to her faux David Bowie. This all gets forgotten by episode 10 or so, and the plot picks up again but overall, it doesn't feel as tight.

At the end too, the journalism storyline disconnects from the main plot and simply becomes a vehicle for explaining the scheme. I understand the need to review and explain all of Frank's plotting, but it felt wooden to me.
posted by bonehead at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just wonderful, right down to the constant imagery of rats gnawing away at London's infrastructure.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


(p.s. it's also all available on Netflix instant, unless they took it down since last week...)
posted by like_a_friend at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2013


Bless you, zarq. Bless you.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first BBC series is by far the best of them. the opening sequence of the 1st episode - first 5 or 10 mins or so are just extraordinarily well crafted.
posted by Bwithh at 1:43 PM on June 11 [+] [!]


More specifically the first 5-6 1/2 mins or so
posted by Bwithh at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2013


It's funnier if you imagine he actually does all the assides to camera in front of everyone.

This is why everyone trusts him: They think he's too insane to be harmful.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:54 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Should we tell him the camera's on his wife at the moment?"
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I wouldn't give to have Francis Urquhart, giving asides to an imaginary audience in front of everyone, dropped into the world of The Thick of It.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:01 PM on June 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


To make Underwood look like a Machiavellian genius, they inflicted The Dumb on everyone else. Beating a bunch of chumps to advance didn't make him look brilliant; it raised the question of why he didn't do it sooner.

The question I had was, is going from House Majority Whip to Vice President an "advance"? I suppose if he is going to kill his way to the top Game Of Thrones style it is. Also, why would somebody want a "guy who knows how to get things done" in the VP slot? They want a guy who can bring votes! The getting things done part is secondary at best.

That said I had a lot of fun watching the US version.
posted by furiousthought at 2:19 PM on June 11, 2013


This is my favorite television production ever.

I will often walk about the house and mutter to "Call me... Daddy" to my significant other.

Also, when I am angered I threaten to poison someone's cocaine.
posted by banal evil at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Largely the same thing, if ever so slightly less dry: The New Statesman. S1, S2, S3.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:21 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


And, Ian Richardson is the best. I nearly threw my undergarments at the screen when he appeared on camera when I watched the Tinker Tailor miniseries.
posted by banal evil at 2:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was extremely disappointed that they treated that line as a throwaway. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it goes back to what fearfulsymmetry says:

"Part of the genius is that it first draws us into Urquhart's machinations and we enjoy his evil doing with as much glee as he does."

Urquhart couldn't possibly comment, but we knew.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:24 PM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I remember it taking me a while to notice 'F U'...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The question I had was, is going from House Majority Whip to Vice President an "advance"?

Because as vice president you are well placed to run for president, which you are not as House majority whip.
posted by Jahaza at 2:31 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kevin Spacey in the US House of Cards sounds like Foghorn Leghorn on Xanax, and his asides were usually annoying, distracting and unnecessary. You'd watch a scene where he fucks someone over in a meeting and then he turns to the camera and says "Ah just fucked him ovah." Um, yeah, thanks Rep. Leghorn.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:44 PM on June 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


I remember the use of that line gradually getting darker. At the start of s3 Urquhart spies a likely young woman, and growls, in the most unsmiling, chilling manner "You. Might. Think. That..."

Still gives me nightmares to this day...
posted by welovelife at 2:52 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found Spacey to be moderately interesting, but everything about the series that wasn't Spacey was just flat out boring esp his wife's sub-plot. I won't be going back, that's sure. Still at least I lasted longer that with Hemlock Grove which I ditched after one ep.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:54 PM on June 11, 2013


Because as vice president you are well placed to run for president, which you are not as House majority whip.

I guess that makes sense, though I'm trying to think of the last time somebody waited to become VP before taking a shot at the presidency. Gerald Ford, I guess, though that was hardly an example of Machiavellian cunning.
posted by furiousthought at 2:57 PM on June 11, 2013


George Bush the Elder and Al Gore come to mind.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:09 PM on June 11, 2013


It is on Netflix Canada currently, saw it listed last night. Worth watching even if it's dated, it's an excellent snapshot of the late 80s/early 90s political climate in the UK.
posted by arcticseal at 3:11 PM on June 11, 2013


I guess that makes sense, though I'm trying to think of the last time somebody waited to become VP before taking a shot at the presidency.

LBJ
posted by Sys Rq at 3:12 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I nearly threw my undergarments at the screen

We now know that banal evil watches tv sans pants.
posted by arcticseal at 3:15 PM on June 11, 2013


Becoming VP is not a "promotion". What's that? Unless the President meets with an untimely accident? You might think that...
posted by Gratishades at 3:17 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


George Bush the Elder and Al Gore come to mind.

Bush ran against Reagan (famously coining the term "voodoo economics") and Gore ran in '88.
posted by furiousthought at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2013


The best thing about the Netflix series is that it will send some people back to the original, which is really one of the finest things ever on TV.
posted by stargell at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


...and LBJ ran against Kennedy (belatedly) so that's not true either.
posted by furiousthought at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2013


House of Cards is why Ian Richardson would have been my ideal Denethor for the Lord of the Rings films.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:31 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Artw: "I'm scared to watch the US version.

It's different. I wouldn't call it bad, but I don't prefer it. Mostly it seems more sprawling - Season 1 gets you about halfway through the first Brit series in terms of plot movement but it goes of in lots of directions along the way.

Also it is inconceivable that anyone meets the Spacey character and doesn't instantaneously conclude they are dealing withn evil dick
"

Even if their evil dick detectors are miscalibrated by spending too much time in DC? I've only seen the first episode, but I enjoyed it.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:33 PM on June 11, 2013


Well, sure, but their DC is full of ingenuous goobers.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2013


I LOVED the U.S. version, and everyone here is saying this one is better? Fire up the inner webs! I'm watchin' TV tonight!
posted by cccorlew at 3:54 PM on June 11, 2013


How much do I need a clue about Brit politics to follow and enjoy this?
posted by cccorlew at 3:56 PM on June 11, 2013


I read this great article that outlined Richardson's genius at making the viewers feel part of the conspiracy, like you were plotting with him, rather than just along for the ride.

Was it Jo Walton's speech, posted here recently? The relevant bit:
Then there's complicity. I recently saw the original UK version of "House of Cards", and then soon after the US version. This clarified something for me. The US version didn't mess up any of the things I thought it would... it messed up different things. The UK version doesn't waste a second, it's about as tight as something can be, and the US version sprawls all over the place. But the huge difference is that Ian Richardson's Francis Urquhart is charming, he seduces the viewer into going along with him. Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood in the US version is a jerk. I would never have said I'd found Urquhart loveable if I hadn't seen Underwood and realised that the real difference is how my sympathies are being placed. Urquhart addresses the viewer directly in Richard III style, but unlike Richard III as usually played, Urquhart confides in us, he flatters us, he smiles at us and we want him to succeed. He makes us complicit in what he is doing right up to the point at the end when we have gone along way too far with him and then he turns on us. It's a remarkably powerful piece of art and I recommend it.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:59 PM on June 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


Yes! Thank you, restless_nomad.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:01 PM on June 11, 2013


...and LBJ ran against Kennedy (belatedly) so that's not true either.

I was mostly making a conspiracy theory joke re: "taking a shot at the presidency"

posted by Sys Rq at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


OHHH

---*whiff*--->

(my head)

posted by furiousthought at 4:12 PM on June 11, 2013


cccorlew: "How much do I need a clue about Brit politics to follow and enjoy this?"

I'm kind of clueless about UK politics and was able to follow along pretty well. Some things are explained, too.
posted by zarq at 4:20 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found adjusting to 1990 pretty odd - it's a sort of uncanny valley of time for me - not long enough ago for me to really think of as majorly different like the 80s, but just different enough for the odd thing to be unfamiliar.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Underwood's schemes often depend upon everyone else in Washington being inept at backroom politicking.
Is there like a memoir you can learn this from, or something, or do you just have to get knifed in the back a few dozen times before it sinks in, like in Go?
posted by Estragon at 5:06 PM on June 11, 2013


Is there like a memoir you can learn this from, or something, or do you just have to get knifed in the back a few dozen times before it sinks in, like in Go?

I think it is more like Diplomacy, and it is both. previously, previously.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:20 PM on June 11, 2013


I wonder how it would have been, had they attempted an Arrested Development/ Rashomon style political drama treating a particular political scandal, say a key moment in negotiations for a strike, from multiple angles. That would be interesting.

I agree with the comments about Urquhart being more charming than Underwood. I don't think it is because of the actors involved; I think it is a direct result of how much screentime the characters have, and how much time we the audience spend with them. The difference between a taut short story, or a novella, and a sprawling novel, I agree. Still loved it, but with all these caveats.

That said, I absolutely love the House of Cards US' titles montage/ theme music. It is all brooding and dark; conveys the mood wonderfully. Difficult to create that with London as a backdrop; a lot more things happen in London than mere politicking for such a montage.
posted by the cydonian at 5:53 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's very Fincher. Though it's also kind of very Homeland.

A weird thought occurred to me when Urquhart was setting up one of his scams, which involved moving miney around under a bunch of assumed identities - that it was very like a scene in Dragon Tattoo. Now I'm wondering if I'm recalling that from both film versions of it or just the Fincher one.
posted by Artw at 6:00 PM on June 11, 2013


Here's the thing for me; if Mrs. Urquhart's party got fucked over by FU's rivals, he'd get on the phone, "put a bit of stick about", and get it done.

Frank Underwood personally tips the guys on the truck who schlepped all those tables and kegs up the stairs at the last minute, in cash.

As a caterer, give me the backwoods palm-greaser over the aging, aristocratic reject from Tom Brown's Schooldays any time.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:08 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked the BBC series very much but have not watched it in more than a decade; I have not (yet) seen the Netflix one. About the only criticism I have of the original -- and forgive me if this is not accurate, I am thinking back to something I saw once or twice in the nineties -- is that the female leads get swapped out every season and they make little mark on the narrative. I know that Dobbs wrote them as three separate books, and I understand that it is supposed to demonstrate FU's ruthlessness, but dramatically Mattie gives way to Sarah gives way to whomever, and it feels like wheels spinning rather than gears meshing.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:22 PM on June 11, 2013


I have no idea I didn't notice this post earlier. This is one of my favorite television shows ever; so much so that I've had zero interest in watching the Netflix remake. As others have said, it's really some of the finest television ever made. To Play the King and The Final Cut, not as much, I think, but still quite good.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:37 PM on June 11, 2013


I'm scared to watch the US version.

I watched the BBC production on Netflix first before watching the Netflix US version. I found both of them to be excellent. Since both are adaptations I look at them pretty much as a couple of production companies staging a play. There are differences and similarities and I enjoyed both very much. I don't feel the need to compare them or hold one over the other, which speaks to the quality of both productions, in my personal judgement of course.

The recent golden age of television drama and comedy over the last decade in the U.s. has been wonderful and the productions can finally rival the quality of British television that has always been there, or has been there a lot longer. Of course both countries produce a lot of garbage, then and now, but British television has consistently had excellent productions for decades and I hope the U.S. continues to follow suit. I believe House of Cards (U.S. version), does just that.

I have long looked at film and television adaptations in this manner whereas I don't think I would even bother watching say, another production of the Wire, which is an original series done for television. But that may just be me.
posted by juiceCake at 7:09 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ian Richardson's performance in House Of Cards was so definitive in the U.K. that, years later, the British car company Rover could air this short advertisement with no explanation whatsoever, and everyone got it.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:21 PM on June 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ian Richardson's performance in House Of Cards was so definitive in the U.K. that, years later, the British car company Rover could air this short advertisement with no explanation whatsoever, and everyone got it.

Oh god he's so good that despite the ridiculous classism I ain't even mad.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:42 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thoroughly enjoyed the scene chewing soapy goodness that was US HoC. Will I still be able to enjoy the UK version without background knowledge of UK politics and shadow governments and so? Will my multiple viewings of In the Loop, suffice?
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:44 PM on June 11, 2013


Will I still be able to enjoy the UK version without background knowledge of UK politics and shadow governments and so?

I have a tenuous grasp of UK politics and I was a little lost at first* but before the end of the first episode I was totally hooked.

*Mostly because the story moves quite rapidly.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:48 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Among the many pleasures of the UK HoC: The standard primetime-soap sexual shenanigans are vastly more entertaining when all the canoodling is done by lumpy, pasty, unattractive English people. And I'm really not kidding! All the affairs feel much more important when the people don't look like models.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Among the many pleasures of the UK HoC: The standard primetime-soap sexual shenanigans are vastly more entertaining when all the canoodling is done by lumpy, pasty, unattractive English people. And I'm really not kidding! All the affairs feel much more important when the people don't look like models.

I get ya. When a character sleeps with Underwood you're like "Well, obviously they're gonna sleep with Kevin Spacey." while with Urquhart* you feel that the character's power, access and ruthlessness is the #1 attraction.

*I have the hardest time not typing "Farquhar".
posted by jason_steakums at 8:09 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


while with Urquhart* you feel that the character's power, access and ruthlessness is the #1 attraction.

I'd go so far as to say it's the only attraction. In retrospect, I don't think Kevin Spacey was the best casting choice because he's generally very well-liked and has a natural charm which is a little difficult to put aside. (Even his bad guys are more sociopath than psychopath.)
posted by Room 641-A at 8:31 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I first watched the original series not long after it came out...found out about it completely by accident. Mom used to watch Masterpiece Theater* on Sunday nights, and more often or not it would bore me to tears...until I went to bed, that is (was about 13-14 at the time).

So one night, it's business as usual and I'm getting ready for bed, not really paying attention to what Mom is watching...and then I notice this old guy suddenly turn and talk to the camera. Right out of the blue! I was so intrigued I sat down and watched it, and Mom was so impressed that I was actually paying attention that I got to stay up and watch the rest of it. Ian Richardson played the part wonderfully.

Over a decade later I'm back at home again, between Iraq and college, and we get the series on Netflix. I hadn't seen it in years, but the opening music brought it right back, and we ran through the whole thing in about a week. His little after-the-credits aside at the end of season 2 still makes me think FRANCIS URQUHART, YOU EVIL, MAGNIFICENT BASTARD!

Haven't seen the new series yet but it's on my to-do list. Would also like to read the original books at some point - looked for them back when this first hit the blue, but they're no longer in print. A shame, I'd really like to read them and see how well they actually translated the show over from the original writings.
posted by zbaco at 8:37 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think Kevin Spacey was the best casting choice because he's generally very well-liked and has a natural charm which is a little difficult to put aside.

I was thinking about this the other day while watching something or other with Malkovich - as much as I love them, so many of the actors I grew up with (and those long before my time) have personalities that just completely overshadow their acting. Malkovich, Spacey, DeNiro, Nicholson, etc, etc... not to name only guys, because it's not, but these people are among the most exaggerated... it's not that I don't love their acting, but once they got famous they developed a personal style that overshadowed their characters. Their early movies, those are noticeably different, but once established it's a glaring thing. And I've really come to appreciate when a working actor and celebrity can be a character first. I've never been a huge movie guy, so this is probably super obvious to everyone else, but it was something of a turning point in my tastes. I mean, I've felt this way for a long time, but it was the first time I really put my finger on what "it" was. So distracting once you notice.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:46 PM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


A side effect of this revelation is that Nic Cage is suddenly more tolerable because he elevated that actor-personality-first thing to an art form.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:49 PM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another worthwhile compare and contrast is this vein UK TV mini-series State of Play (2003) and the 2009 US film of the same name. Although in this case, the Brit original is vastly better while the US film is merely a competent thriller.
posted by rhymer at 1:30 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"sexual shenanigans are vastly more entertaining when all the canoodling is done by lumpy, pasty, unattractive English people."

You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly etc. etc.
posted by cromagnon at 1:45 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Becoming VP is not a "promotion".

Well, it was famously denigrated as "not worth a bucket of warm piss [or spit, if you were a family newspaper]" by John Nance Garner. And as late as the pointless vice presidency of Nellie Rockefeller, it largely wasn't. But Mondale worked closely with Carter, who needed a Washington insider on his team, and Reagan -- whose campaign team had allegedly mooted a possible "co-presidency" ticket with Ford -- actually made Bush a real partner, and since then that's the shape the office has held. There has also been a significant modern uptick in Veeps later getting their party's nomination, and often winning the top job, something that wasn't a feature when the slot was largely an artifact of party ticket-balancing politics, the ultimate compromise. I think it was interesting, although a bit inelegantly staged, that HoC/Spacey's President Walker interviewed people for the job. In reality it may go somewhat in that direction, but any vacancy would be the subject of much wrangling at the Senate level (because advise and consent, that's why). But it is much more of a counsel/stepping stone position than it ever was, or in strict constitutional terms, remains.

once they got famous they developed a personal style that overshadowed their characters

Often dubbed Nicholson syndrome. Yeah, this happens, although it is as much a product of their early work as it is them becoming lazy -- you get cast because you're the best actor who's like you, so to speak. I really enjoyed seeing DeNiro act again in Silver Linings Playbook, as he was denied many of his schtick moves due to the character's own limitations.

How much do I need a clue about Brit politics to follow and enjoy this?

Having watched both, I don't think you need much -- Urquhart gives you plenty of explanation of what he's doing, and there are only a few things you need to understand, such as the way that the party of the PM controls the ministers and is much more closely enmeshed with the legislature.

That points to one of the weaknesses of the US version, which I did love quite a bit, but ultimately the same sorts of wheeling-dealing don't translate quite as directly to these shores, and I don't feel they quite did it right. One of the other criticisms is that it really feels like chesspieces moving around on a board more than characters working themselves into position -- somebody above referred to this as making them seem dumb, and I don't think that's quite right, it's just that it's supposed to feel like they're foolishly getting ground up by Frank, completely unable to expect it, while it's partly just that the position Underwood holds is much more explicitly an obvious center of accumulated power rather than a loyal acolyte sinecure as with Urquhart. With the latter, people think they're only dealing with him because he's the front office of the PM, but I don't think anyone would think that of the Majority Whip in Congress. (Perhaps of the Speaker, but certainly not the President.) I also felt there was a clunky representation of how non-profits work -- the director doesn't have the power to just turn the NGO's mission on a dime, that's what donors and the board decide, but in the end their point was that NGOs with a mission can get "turned" by corporate money, so it was just inelegant again.

I think they're both good productions, in other words, but certainly the original and first series with Richardson is a showcase for one of the great, oily politician portrayals of all time. Spacey would have been foolish to just recreate it, but you can hardly follow an act like that anyway.
posted by dhartung at 3:03 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Even his bad guys are more sociopath than psychopath.)

But Underwood is a sociopath, not a psychopath. He's a machiavellian grasper, not crazy. I'm not a huge Spacey fan, but I actually think his casting here was just about perfect.
posted by spaltavian at 5:48 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


>while with Urquhart* you feel that the character's power, access and ruthlessness is the #1 attraction.

I'd go so far as to say it's the only attraction.


I'm not sure. Urquhart is ferociously intelligence and a great deal of social grace when he chooses to deploy it. He also has the ability to at least appear to focus all his attention on a person (he often sees rather more than he thinks). All of these can be intensely attractive, especially to someone who is not quite sure of themselves.

To change subject, I was bothered by the treatment of the woman who becomes Urquart's aide in the 3rd season. Without spoilers, it's hard to describe further, but the show seems to take more glee in her cumuppance than seems called for by her moral failings. That, along with Urquart's rather weaker reactions, makes the 3rd season by far the weakest, in my opinion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the things I'm noticing is the difference between Mrs. Urquhart and Mrs. Underwood. I the BBC version, Elizabeth is the chatelaine of the household, the gracious hostess. She counsels Francis and aides him in his plots & sins and works the dinner parties the way he works the halls of Parlilament.

In Netflix version, Claire is much more a post-Clinton DC wife. She's got her own NGO and her own moves to make in the world of power and money, while also being Frank's wife and partner in crime and confidante. They use each other's power bases and contacts for separate agendas while supporting the other.

Interesting contrast.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spacey is perfect for the role, considering real US politicians: at least moderately conventionally attractive, well-groomed and superficially charismatic. He's exactly what one would expect a successful, mid-life pol to look like.
posted by bonehead at 8:55 AM on June 12, 2013


TBH I'm still hazy on what US Clare is up to apart from shear dickery - maybe she needs her own asides.
posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on June 12, 2013


personalities that just completely overshadow their acting

I'd add Pacino to that list. Spacey can still get my butt in a theatre seat.

Spacey is perfect for the role, considering real US politicians: at least moderately conventionally attractive, well-groomed and superficially charismatic. He's exactly what one would expect a successful, mid-life pol to look like.

Oh, I've got it -- he did a great job playing the character you describe, and yes, that was surely the intent. Urquhart was more Cheney-like, but Cheney would have *ahem* just appointed himself VP.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:42 AM on June 12, 2013


I'm imaging it being like Lee Matvin on Point Blank only it's Cheney shooting people in the face, leaving apologizing near-corpses in his wake, till he gets what he wants.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2013


I just watched the first episode, and, more than anything, it reinforces the idea that politicians and the press have a symbiotic relationship, and that neither care about the public good so much as furthering personal agendas and careers.

The recent story about Canada's Stephen Harper "actually being quite funny" is a good case in point. It's a classic case of feel-good spin following a disastrous month or so in the press for the Canadian prime minister. The thing is, the only people who care about what's being written about the prime minister are politicians and journalists. As the recent British Columbia electorate has shown, the voting public couldn't give a damn.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:27 PM on June 12, 2013


"House of Cards", "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" - Westminster system politics 101
posted by MILNEWSca at 1:29 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Canadian politics doesn't really work like Yes, Prime Minister because all of the senior civil service appoints at the federal and provincial level are political, and are controlled by the PMO. So you don't have an embedded, unelected bureaucratic class like Sir Humphrey pulling the strings. I wonder what things are like post-Blair.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:58 PM on June 12, 2013


Thanks for the post. I only saw the last few hours of the final season when it aired in the United States years back. At the time, there was no easy way to figure out what led up to the ending; I was left guessing at the intrigues. So, I had to fill in the details with my imagination and wonder about the rest.

It's great to finally have seen the whole thing; over the past few days I've chipped away at the episodes. It's been great to watch and nice to clear up a curiosity from years ago. Thank you.
posted by relish at 7:36 AM on June 15, 2013


Oh, yum. Thanks for the post.
posted by Paris Elk at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2013


"House of Cards", "es, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" - Westminster system politics 101
posted by MILNEWSca 4 days ago [3 favorites −] Favorite added!


THIS! I was thinking a little while ago that HoC is like the dark, "Mirror, Mirror" version of "Yes, Minister". FU as Jim Hacker with moxie & w/out morals.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:36 AM on June 16, 2013


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