Sunday, December 29, 2013

House of Cards - Part 2/2

As the second part of my House of Cards "review", I'm going to talk about the US remake of the books/BBC series, which aired on Netflix earlier this year, and which has a second series which will premiere on February 14th, 2014 (what a lovely Valentine's present!).

Kevin Spacey takes the reigns as the Democrat majority whip in the House of Representatives, Frank Underwood (as opposed to Ian Richardson's Tory Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart). While it would be easy to scoff that "Urquhart" is too difficult for the Americans to get their heads round (see "Local Hero", for example!), the name Underwood is a reference to Oscar Underwood, the first Democrat whip in Congress.

With the action switched from Downing Street and the Commons to the White House and Capitol Hill, the US series sees Underwood passed over for promotion to Secretary of State (US equivalent to the UK's Foreign Secretary) by the incoming Democrat president. Underwood, with the encouragement of his wife, Claire, sets about to seek revenge, discrediting the President's nomination for Secretary of State and enlisting washed-up drug-addicted congressman Peter Russo as a pawn, assisted by his utterly loyal Chief of Staff, Doug Stamper (changed from Urquhart's deputy chief whip, Tim Stamper).

Journalist Mattie Storin from the original becomes Zoe Barnes in the US reboot - she and Underwood begin a brief affair, which is only slightly less disturbing than in the UK version, which includes Storin's apparent Electra complex, calling Urquhart "Daddy". The iconic ending of the original series is changed - due to the fact that further episodes are to follow in the Netflix adaptation. There's no Congressional roof garden to match that on top of the Houses of Parliament (which, by the way, is completely fictitious - though you can get on the roof... I've been!).

Is the US version as good as the British one? Without a doubt, but they are completely different beasts, taken from the same source material. Each is very enjoyable, when one doesn't spend too long cross-comparing them. Spacey's portrayal of FU is a completely different approach to the one taken by Richardson, but they're both played sublimely. I do miss the fact that the British version (particularly the interactions between Urquhart and Stamper) is as camp as Christmas/Keswick, but Spacey's channelling of Richard III is incredibly believable. And there's something of Richardson about him when he does the trademark fourth-wall-breaking remarks to camera.

And, the biggest question of them all is... does Kevin Spacey still manage to pull off the infamous catchphrase of FU?

You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

Friday, December 27, 2013

House of Cards - Part 1/2

Part 1 of 2

House of Cards (the UK version) is one of my favourite television programmes (as is the US Netflix version, but I will be covering that adaptation in a second blogpost). I discovered it about 18 months ago through YouTube, and have watched it several times since then, having acquired both the DVD and BluRay box sets.

In brief, it tells the story of Francis Urquhart, the Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Commons, after the downfall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. The series sees Urquhart plot against her successor, John Major Henry Collingridge, who, having promised Urquhart a senior Cabinet position, reneges on his promise and leaves Urquhart in his position as Whip. Collingridge's majority in the Commons is slim, so tells Urquhart "a good Chief Whip is more important to me than a good Home Secretary".

So, what does a Chief Whip do? In the words of the man himself -

"I'm merely a functionary. I keep the troops in line. I put a bit of stick about. I make 'em jump."

The Government's Chief Whip is concerned with discipline and morale on the backbenches - they know everybody's business, though keep themselves to themselves.

Urquhart plots his way to the top, with assistance from Elizabeth, his wife, Tim Stamper, his deputy (Treasurer of HM Household), and young, ambitious journalist Mattie Storin - blackmailing and murdering his way into Number 10 Downing Street.

Urquhart blackmails Tory party publicity officer Roger O'Neill into assisting him in his deeds, covering up O'Neill's cocaine habit, and sets about to discredit Collingridge via the implication of his alcoholic brother in insider trading. He uses Storin as a mouthpiece in the media - feeding her information about Collingridge and other Cabinet ministers - before engaging in a rather disturbing sexual relationship with her.

Once Collingridge is forced out of office, and the frontrunners to replace him emerge, all eyes turn to Urquhart as the only alternative, as his opponents drop out, one by one, through various scandals engineered by Urquhart and Stamper. Eventually, O'Neill becomes more and more unpredictable, and Storin suspects foul play. Will the plot unravel before Urquhart makes it through the door of Number 10?

The series was one of several (edit - thanks to Mark, who pointed out that another was Lovejoy!) which popularised the use of breaking the fourth wall in mainstream television. It is, after all, based on both Macbeth and Richard III, so Urquhart's soliloquoys and asides to camera help to make the audience feel very much implicit in what nefarious schemes he's up to.

Above is a video of a clarinet ensemble playing Francis Urquhart's March, the theme tune to the BBC series. The music was composed by Jim Parker, who went on to compose the music to, amongst other things, Ground Force! The original music is a cracking piece played by a brass section, but the melancholic air of the woodwind in this performance lends itself just as well to the feel of the programme - one minute pomp, the other a raft of nefarious actions. Parker's score was one of several BAFTAs won by the series.

Is it any good?

"You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment."

See you on the Commons roof garden.


Here's a little clip of Urquhart and Stamper putting a bit of stick about with an unruly backbencher.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Star Wars & I

There's a few brilliant videos floating round the net, showing mash-ups of two of my favourite films - Star Wars and the British 1987 comedy cult Withnail & I, starring Richard E Grant, Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths.

Part 1 -

Parts 2 & 3 -

Part 4 -

"There is, I think you'll find, a certain Je ne sais quoi oh-so-very-special about a firm... young... carrot!"

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Slow Train

Millers Dale for Tideswell
Kirby Muxloe
Mow Cop and Scholar Green

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe
On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Mumby Road
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting again
On the slow train

I'll travel no more from Littleton Badsey to Openshaw
At Long Stanton, I'll stand well clear of the doors no more
No whitewashed pebbles, no "Up" and no "Down"
From Formby, Four Crosses to Dunstable Town
I won't be going again
On the slow train

On the main line and the goods siding
The grass grows high
At Dogdyke, Tumby Woodside, and Trouble House Halt

The sleepers sleep at Audlem and Ambergate
No passenger waits on Chittening Platform or Cheslyn Hay
No-one departs, no-one arrives
From Selby to Goole, from St Erth to St Ives
They've all passed out of our lives
On the slow train

On the slow train
Cockermouth for Buttermere
On the slow train
Armley Moor, Arram
Pye Hill and Somercotes
On the slow train
Windmill End

Flanders and Swann

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Soubry takes on Mr Toad

Poop poop! The poor old Ukip leader, Mr Toad himself, was in for a battering from Tory defence minister Anna Soubry this week on BBC Question Time.

Ms Soubry, formerly public health minister, makes one or two rather good points!

Ed Miliband's Dad killed my kitten!

Ed Miliband cracking a funny as he accepts an award from The Spectator this week.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Labour's newly reshuffled Shadow Cabinet was announced while I was on holiday. In mid-October, they met for the first time and the opportunity was taken to pose for a ShadCab photo (photo comes from Caroline Flint's Twitter account). But just who's who in the Shadow Cabinet of Ed Miliband?

Back row -
Wayne David MP, PPS to Ed Miliband (not ShadCab)
Tristram Hunt MP, shadow education secretary
Ivan Lewis MP, shadow Northern Ireland secretary
Lord Bassam, chief whip (House of Lords)
Owen Smith MP, shadow Wales secretary
Michael Dugher MP, shadow Cabinet Office minister
Iain McNicol, Labour Party general secretary (not ShadCab)
Jon Cruddas MP, coordinator of Labour policy review
Vernon Coaker MP, shadow defence secretary

Middle row -
Andy Burnham MP, shadow health secretary
Caroline Flint MP, shadow energy secretary
Ed Balls MP, shadow chancellor of the exchequer
Ed Miliband MP, leader of the opposition
Harriet Harman MP, deputy leader of the opposition, shadow culture secretary
Yvette Cooper MP, shadow home secretary
Emma Reynolds MP, shadow housing minister
Hilary Benn MP, shadow communities secretary
Baroness Royall, shadow leader of the House of Lords
Mary Creagh MP, shadow transport secretary
Gloria de Piero MP, shadow equalities minister
Jon Trickett MP, shadow minister without portfolio
Rachel Reeves MP, shadow work and pensions secretary

Front row -
Jim Murphy MP, shadow international development secretary
Margaret Curran MP, shadow Scotland secretary
Chris Leslie MP, shadow chief secretary to the treasury
Angela Eagle MP, shadow leader of the House of Commons
Sadiq Khan MP, shadow justice secretary
Maria Eagle MP, shadow environment secretary
Douglas Alexander MP, shadow foreign secretary
Emily Thornberry MP, shadow attorney general
Rosie Winterton MP, opposition chief whip
Liz Kendall MP, shadow health minister

(Chuka Ummuna MP, shadow business secretary, was absent on business).

Saturday, November 02, 2013


A little something from Spitting Image...

And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's lower class?
And did our forefathers of old
Tell them to get up off their arse?
And did they try to pass the blame
For all of their society's ills?
And now we're just the same, only worse;
We've closed the dark satanic mills

Bring me Victorian values of old
Bring me inflation that is low
Bring me your cash - oh, business fold!
But don't bring me your tales of woe
I shall not turn from my great plan,
No matter how insane it seems:
Til we have built Jerusalem
And made it look like Milton Keynes

Sadly, as appropriate today as in the 1980s.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

One from the riverbank

The world has held great heroes
As history books have showed
But never a name went down to fame
Compared with that of Gove!

The clever men at Oxford
Know all there's to be knowed
But none of them know half as much
As intelligent Mr Gove!

The animals sat in the Ark
Their tears in torrents flowed
Who was it said "There's land ahead!"?
Mr Gove!

The world has held great heroes
As history books have showed
But never a name went down to fame
Compared with that of Gove!
Intelligent Mr Gove!
Encouraging Mr Gove!

(With apologies to Kenneth Grahame)

Saturday, September 07, 2013