House of Cards (Paul Seed, 1990)
I never saw House of Cards on first broadcast in 1990 — television viewing was limited as a student although I did see Twin Peaks. It had the good fortune to be broadcast just as the Conservative leadership election was underway and we were to leave Thatcherism behind forever. Hooray.
So chief whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) is expecting a cabinet post in the aftermath of Thatcher’s successor’s election but is let down. He seeks revenge by deciding to manufacture a scandal that will bring him down and engineer things so that he gets to be the next leader of the conservative party and prime minister.
Here we have a modernisation of various Shakespeare plots — Richard III (although maybe not hugely — do I recall an acting out of the Olivier version?) and Macbeth, with Urquhart’s wife (Diane Fletcher) playing a greater role than in the Michael Dobbs book and clearly being a Lady Macbeth. I suspect there are shades of Iago there, too. Richardson is glorious immoral/amoral and the device of talking to the camera has the self-serving/self-deluding impact of Shakespearean monologues, especially Iago’s.
Of course, the series doesn’t stay with his point of view — it does skip around the other MPs and aides, but more to the point we have a lady journalist, Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), who Urquhart uses to his benefit. It should be noted that all the jobs that women can do, lady journalist seems to scare the dramatic horses least. And she also falls into the thing that so frequently annoys me as cheap drama — sleeping with the story/suspect. You just wouldn’t. You also feel she would be a little less trusting of him.
But there are shenanigans.
Whilst the drama itself feels current — although big desktop computers! dial telephones — the direction by Paul Seed does not. It is of course very talky and there’s distinct telling not showing, but somehow that never stopped The West Wing. There were moments when I thought it a fine radio play.
And then there were the various cuts to rats.
Whatever can that mean?
NO, DON’T TELL ME — THAT WAS IRONY.