Like most of the politically intrigued world, I can’t deny that I am a huge fan of the Netflix series, ‘House of Cards’, which sets itself in Washington D.C. – having great fun showing off the corruptibility of the American political system.
However, did you know that there is another ‘House of Cards’?
In 1990, Andrew Davies (who has also been a contributor to the American counterpart) adapted a novel by Michael Dobbs (who had once worked in the office of the Conservative Party whip) for the BBC. And if you think that the Percy Jackson films took a bit of poetic license to the plot; you ain’t seen nothing yet. If you have a spare moment, why don’t you take a look at the wikipedia pages for ‘House of Cards’ and its two sequels, ‘To Play the King’ and ‘The Final Cut’ and you may see just some of the huge changes made between the source material and the screen.
In the original series, the main character is Francis Urquhart (notice how he shares the same initials as his American brethren), the well-respected chief whip of a Conservative party that has just squeezed through its first election since the fall of Margaret Thatcher. Though Kevin Spacey is naturally outstanding as Francis Underwood. Ian Richardson, who portrays Urquhart here; plays him with a smile and wink. Francis Urquhart has charm and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare. When he speaks directly to you, through the lens of the camera, he is confiding in us as fellow conspirators. Francis Urquhart is as Machiavellian a character as Richard III or Macbeth.
There are several differences between the two series. The most noticeable is the fact that the British series consists of 12 episodes, while there are more than that in the first season of the Netflix series. This condenses the action for the British palette. Davies doesn’t spend several episodes focusing on charity work, BBQ ribs or an education bill like Beau Willimon does. Francis Urquhart schemes from the start, and this creates a fast-moving, if thinning, story. The other noticeable difference is the character of Mrs FU. For the BBC, she acts as a Lady Macbeth character and is even more chillingly evil than her husband. For Netflix, she has a job and becomes more of a character; and Robin Wright has a lot more to do than Diane Fletcher does.
The reason why I love the British version of House of Cards is the allegory and the charm of it. Francis Urquhart is a lexicon of memorable quotes. Whether it be the signature, ‘You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment,’ or the more interesting ones such as ‘[Following fatal bomb blast in the street] Don’t worry, no-one we know.’ Urquhart is pure evil.
Out of the three mini-series made during the 1990s, my favourite is ‘To Play the King’ in which the Prime Minister (now Urquhart) conflicts with the new King. The King, though never named, is clearly Charles (the actor even has that famous tone of voice). Despite being set in 1993, it manages to set a chord today as it debates the power of the press, the need for the monarchy, austerity as well as power. There are even characters who are clearly symbolizing Princess Diana and Princess Anne.
The Houses of Parliament are a thrilling setting in this adaptation, and it is a tv series that clearly reflects the concerns and qualities that are both feared and loved in modern Britain. Ian Richardson won a BAFTA for his performance, and while the final series (The Final Cut) is a bit underwhelming; the rise and fall of Francis Urquhart is an excellent trilogy which I would encourage you to watch!