House of Cards

From Academic Kids

House of Cards was a highly political television drama serial, made by the BBC, which ran in 1990 at the end of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as British Prime Minister. It has since been adapted for radio. The story was adapted by Andrew Davies from a novel by Michael Dobbs.

In it, the fictional Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart (the initials, "F.U.", were deliberately chosen), played by Ian Richardson, is seen engaging in all the skullduggery of power politics, including murder, in his efforts to become Prime Minister. Susannah Harker plays Mattie Storin, the journalist who tries to uncover his misdeeds.

There were two sequels: To Play the King in 1994 (with the King, almost exactly resembling Charles, Prince of Wales, played by Michael Kitchen) and The Final Cut in 1995. It has been said that Richardson agreed to appear in a third series only on the understanding that the character got his come-uppance.

Frequently during the drama Urquhart talks through the camera to the audience, breaking the 'fourth wall'. The drama also introduced the phrase "You Might Say That, I Couldn't Possibly Comment" which was frequently used by Urquhart whenever he didn't want to give an actual answer to a question put to him.

The House of Cards starts with Francis Urquhart sitting at a desk, commenting that 'even the most glittering reign must come to an end'. He is referring to Margaret Thatcher, who in the House of Cards universe has just left office.

This then requires that the Tories (whom Urquhart is an MP and Chief Whip for) elect a new leader. This new leader is Henry ('Hal') Collingridge, a man who Urquhart is slightly contemptuous of ('no backbone and no bottom').

Their leader chosen, the Tories then face the next election. They win by a narrow majority, and Urquhart expects to be given a senior position in the Cabinet afterwards, and refers to a promise of just that by Collingridge. However, the newly elected PM does not give Urquhart a senior post, wanting him to remain Chief Whip.

This antagonises Urquhart, who then resolves to get rid of Collingridge. To do this, he enlists the services of one of the Tory's PR consultants, Roger, who has a cocaine habit that had been funded by his Tory expense account. Urquhart, as Chief Whip, threatens to expose this unless Roger does as he says.

Roger then works to undermine Collingridge, two examples of this being that he gives an opposition MP information that would make the prime minister look bad at Question Time and also setting the scene for Urquhart himself to pose as Collingridge's brother, Charles, so that he can trade in Mendox Chemicals, a company about to benefit from the government.

As a result of the latter, Collingridge becomes accused of insider trading and this, combined with his eroding image and his bad showing at the Brighton Party Conference, which is covered in the series, eventually force him to resign.

The second half of House of Cards then deals with the way Urquhart gets himself chosen as Leader of the Tories and Prime Minister. At first unwilling to stand (or appearing to be at any rate), he eventually announces his intention to run and goes about making sure his competitors can't win, as follows:

  • Earle - Blackmailed into withdrawing by pictures involving him, a Rent Boy and an act of Fellatio.
  • MacKenzie - Hit by bad PR after an incident staged by Urquhart involving his car running over a disabled person, forced to withdraw.
  • Woolton - Blackmailed into withdrawing by a audio tape of him having sex with one of Roger's aides.
  • Samuels - Has his reputation tarnished when it leaks that he was in favour of Homosexuals, Nuclear Disarmament and Communism in his student days (the old Tory point of view on this - and, some would argue, the current one - frowns on these things).

Roger himself becomes increasingly unstable, both due to his cocaine habit and the fact that a journalist, Mattie Storin, who has been following Urquhart (and indeed sleeping with him) is beginning to figure out that all of the events of the story are the work of Urquhart and, by extension, Roger. In the end, Urquhart kills Roger by getting him drunk, then mixing his cocaine with rat poison while Roger slept. When Roger awoke, he left the Urquhart residence, took his last shot of poisoned cocaine and died.

The House of Cards ends with Mattie Storin looking for Urquhart at the point when it looks like his victory is certain. She eventually finds him in the Roof Garden of the Houses of Parliament where she confronts him. He admits to what he has done, then asks if he can trust her. Despite Mattie saying yes, he says he doesn't believe her and throws her off the roof, killing her.

The ending of the television version is different to the book: the book allowed no possibility for sequels as Francis Urquhart either jumps or is pushed from the roof of the Palace of Westminster. In the television version, he instead pushed Mattie Storin off.


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