House of Cards

Tonight I’m off to watch some more BBC with my friend Catherine Stryker. We’ve been watching a trilogy based on novels by Michael Dobbs starring Ian Richardson: House of Cards, To Play the King, and The Final Cut.

The incomparable Ian Richardson play Francis Urquhart (pronounced UR-ket), known to his underlings as FU, a majority whip in the conservative party at the end of Margaret Thatcher’s reign.

The conservatives have a new leader that Urquhart doesn’t like (“no background, no bottom”) and there are a lot of other guys that want the position, too. FU foils them all, all the while pretending to be an unpretentious “back-bencher” whose job is to “put a bit of stick about” and “keep the troops in line.”

He opens the movie by breaking down the fourth wall and speaking directly to the viewer, explaining the ins and outs of parliament, and he is very witty, very well read, and extremely charming.

He reminds me of my grandfather. He has that same twinkle in his eye.

He does a lot of scheming and blackmailing, and he does murder a few people, but what can one do? It’s a messy business, and somebody’s got to stand up for the country.

One of the Conservative Party flacks, for example, has a cocaine problem and becomes unstable and threatens to blow the whistle.

FU invites him to his country home, gets him drunk, and puts rat poison in his cocaine. The flack takes off in the morning and stops for a toot at a highway rest stop. It’s his last.

FU takes the young reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker) into his confidence with a little game that became famous in England after the series came out. Mattie would ask a question and Urquhart would reply, “You might think that. I couldn’t possibly comment.” It was his way of telling her she was on the right track.

His wife Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher) is very understanding about his affair with Mattie Storin, and after Urquhart is obliged to throw Mattie off the roof garden on the top of the Parliament Building, they both feel a twinge of regret as he relives the scene:

“She was so long in the air, Elizabeth!”

Richardson is so brilliant, and the rest of the cast is, too. No wonder the British Film Institute included the series in its list of the 100 greatest British television programmes.