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,
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.