House of Cards Trilogy [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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Political drama doesn't get more near the knuckle than Michael Dobbs' House of Cards trilogy, adapted for the screen by Andrew Davies and originally broadcast in the post-Thatcher years of the early 1990s. A splendid dissection of naked ambition, greed and rampant hypocrisy in the corridors of power, the original four-part series House of Cards documents in thrilling detail the rise of Tory Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (magnificent Ian Richardson), a man who likes to "put the stick about a bit" and has unwavering contempt for those with "no background, no bottom". With the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, a bitter internecine power struggle ensues within the Conservative Party. Urquhart schemes more devilishly than Iago to depose Thatcher's colourless John Major-style successor. And even Machiavelli would baulk at Urquhart's methods: any and every act--including murder--are legitimate as the end very much justifies the means. Idealistic journalist Matti Storin (Susannah Harker) becomes embroiled in Urquhart's nefarious plans (and ends up in his bed) as she attempts to question him about what's really going on: "You might think so, I couldn't possibly comment," is Urquhart's mantra of hypocrisy.
In To Play the King, the second part of the trilogy, we find our anti-hero comfortably installed as PM at No. 10 but facing a fresh challenge in the person of the newly crowned King (Michael Kitchen in a pitch-perfect Prince Charles impersonation), who wears his social conscience on his sleeve and publicly opposes Urquhart's hardline policies. With the help of political analyst and new mistress Sarah Harding (Kitty Aldridge), as well as that of his ambitious wife Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), Urquhart is forced to resort to still more underhand plots. Then, in The Final Cut, we find Urquhart determined to last as long in office as Mrs Thatcher (whose statue, much to his chagrin, is about to be unveiled in front of his window). But ambitions to make a mark on the world stage, as well as his wife's desire to provide themselves a comfortable retirement nest egg, lead him into the choppy international waters of the Cyprus situation. The temptations of corrupt businessmen and his wife's goading might just have pushed Urquhart's luck too far this time.
Throughout, Richardson is a delight as the hypocritical, arrogant patrician who loathes the hoi polloi whose favour he must court at election time, and manipulates all his minions with a ruthless singlemindedness of purpose. However much a monster he seems, though, the viewer might just find themselves secretly admiring his determination and his lion-like strength of will: in contrast to many drab modern politicians, at least he knows what he wants, and makes sure he gets it. If it's strong leadership you want, Urquhart's your man.
On the DVD: The House of Cards trilogy has the three four-part series on three double-sided discs, with two hour-long episodes on each side of each disc. The first episodes come with a commentary from Andrew Davies and Ian Richardson, who share their memories and anecdotes. --Mark Walker --This text refers to the Blu-ray edition.
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If you have seen the new US House of Cards, it is still worth getting this because the plots and characters are different enough to make them fresh.
House of Cards is the story of Francis Urquhart, a typical "Knight from the Shires", posh middle aged Tory MP who has become the Conservative Chief Whip, the "back-room boy" responsible for loyally helping the Prime Minster to push his agenda.
He has stayed in the shadows, manipulating and coercing his colleagues for many years in the service of someone else, and is almost invisible to the public despite his seat at the Cabinet Table. But when this apparently genteel, almost elderly man is overlooked for promotion, he plots a Machiavellian revenge destroying all those who stand in his way as he rises to the top.
Ian Richardson is brilliant throughout as he lets us see through the civilised, upper class veneer to the monster scheming underneath, as he blackmails, lies, murders and schemes with a twinkle in his eye. It's one of the few shows in history to have someone in their late middle age as the protagonist
If I am honest, I was less keen on the second and particularly the third parts of the trilogy - once he has achieved his goal, the keeping of his position does not seem to have the same excitement. I also think the realism drops away a bit in parts 2 and 3, he just doesn't seem to have developed the army of acolytes that modern politicians need and it seems a bit stagey.
But quibbles aside, this is a landmark piece of TV which anyone interested in politics should have in their collection.
The Second Series has Francis as PM, but at loggerheads with a new king (whose mannerisms are very identifiable with our Queen's first son!)
The third, again has FU - but nearing the end of his tenure as PM, but none the less wiley. Still a force to be dealt with, we see him setting out plans for the day he leaves No.10, but an incident from his days in the Army during the Turkish occupation of Cyprus come back to haunt him
Excellent - a def 'BUY IT' rating and well worth the price
Shame the BBC don't make enough drama's of this quality these days!
And this it IT!! No arguments, no discussions. This is the ONLY version you should watch.
My only regret is that the BBC are to scared to commission somthing of this calibre in this day and age. Mores the pitty
However, the technical details make no mention of the fact that this is a Dutch import (fortunately still Region 2) and that the trailers and indeed the menu page are in Dutch! Subtitles appear by default, although they can be turned off at the menu page. An irritation, but nothing more and should not dissuade anybody from acquainting (or re-acquainting) themselves with these excellent dramas.
Five stars all round.
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