23 December 2009 | timdalton007
The Rise Of Francis Urquhart
I'm a sucker for both British television and political thrillers in general. So having heard much about this miniseries, the first of a trilogy of miniseries's, I have been looking forward to seeing this for some time. Having seen it, I found that my expectations have not only been reached but surpassed as well. House Of Cards is one of the finest examples of the political thriller that you are likely to see anywhere.
If there is any single element that makes this miniseries as much of a success as it is, it is lead character, Francis Urquhart as played by actor Ian Richardson. Richardson plays Urquhart as a modern day (modern day being an alternate version of late 1980's or early 1990's UK) version of Shakespeare's Richard III. Urquhart is a man who,as the Chief Whip who feels unappreciated by the Prime Minister he helped to elect, sets out to bring down the Prime Minister, and then take the job of for himself. Like Richard III, Urquhart does this by laying out traps, rumors and blackmail while all the while delivering soliloquies to the audience relaying them to us the viewer. For all intents and purposes, Urquhart is a man we should hate as he does all of those things. Yet it is Richardson makes this work incredibly well and makes Urquhart a man who is ruthless yet immensely charming and likable nonetheless. It is a compliment to Richardson and his skills that he can make it all work, especially the soliloquies, while being evil yet charming all at the same time.
Backing Richardson is a fine supporting cast as well. There's Diane Fletcher as Urquhart's wife who, like Lady Macbeth, pushed her husband and his plans along which makes her a character that is almost as fascinating as her husband. There's Susannah Harker as the young, attractive reporter Mattie Storin who begins using Urquhart as a source before they start going in a dangerous direction which leads to an incredible finale. There's Miles Anderson as Roger O'Neill and Alphonsia Emmanuel as his girlfriend Penny Guy who both end up snared by Urquhart's traps and end up victims of that. There's Colin Jeavons as Urquhart's protégé Tim Stamper who has a marvelously sleazy feel to him. Last but not least there's David Lyon as the targeted Prime Minister Henry Collingridge and James Villiers as his brother Charles, who end's up being part of Urquhart's plans. Theses are only a few of those amongst others in what is a fine cast backing a great leading man.
House Of Cards is also blessed with fine production values as well. There's some fine production design by Ken Ledsham who creates the worlds ranging from the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, press rooms and beyond. There's the cinematography of Jim Fyans and Ian Punter which brings a fine sense of atmosphere and shadows to the world of the miniseries. There's also the music by Jim Parker, especially with the main title and end title pieces which serve as a perfect start and closing to the four episodes of the miniseries. All of this, under the direction of Paul Seed, makes for some fine production values to the miniseries.
Last but not least is the script. Andrew Davies adapts Michael Dobbs novel into a fine political thriller about the effect of power on one man and how far he will go to gain power. There is a definite Richard III vibe running throughout the entire miniseries as Urquhart decides to seize power and begins to lay plans to do so. As a consequence, the plot can get fairly complex at time with Urquhart playing numerous plans at once which will require the viewer to pay just a bit more then perhaps they usually would. Also, Davies knows how to write fine dialogue especially for Urquhart including the famous line "You may think that, but I couldn't possibly comment." The script never fails to deliver right up to the shocking finale.
House Of Cards is a fine example of what the political thriller can be. From the performance of Ian Richardson as Urquhart, the performances of the supporting cast, good production values and a fantastic script as well. It is a complex story with a complex protagonist that takes a look at power and its ability to corrupt and how far one will go to achieve it and is a fine one at that.