House of Cards

House of Cards

Infobox Film
name = House of Cards

imdb_id = 0098825
director = Paul Seed
writer = Andrew Davies (writer)|Andrew Davies
Michael Dobbs
starring = Ian Richardson
Susannah Harker
David Lyon
Diane Fletcher
producer = Ken Riddington
distributor = BBC
released = 18 November 1990
runtime = 4 x 50 minutes
language = English
followed_by = "To Play The King"
music = Jim Parker
budget =

"House of Cards" is a political thriller novel written by Michael Dobbs, a former Chief of Staff at Conservative Party headquarters, which was set at the end of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 1990, it was televised in a critically and popularly acclaimedFact|date=June 2008 television drama serial by the BBC. The story was adapted by Andrew Davies. Dobbs's novel was also dramatised for radio for BBC World Service in 1996, by Neville Teller. The "House of Cards" trilogy was ranked 84th in the British Film Institute list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. [cite web | url= | title=British Film Institute list of 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, No. 84 | accessdate=2008-06-04]


The narrative is centered on the fictional Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart (the entire concept came from the initials, 'F.U.') [ [,14,0,0,1,0 Official Website of Michael Dobbs - Author ] ] played by Sir Ian Richardson. The plot follows his amoral and manipulative schemes to become Prime Minister. The TV version of "House of Cards" had a different ending to the book, enabling the story to be continued in two further sequels: "To Play the King" (1993) and "The Final Cut" (1995).

Like "House of Cards", both were also based on Dobbs' novels of the same names. It appears that Dobbs did not envisage writing the latter two books initially, since his ending to "House of Cards" differs from that of the BBC's dramatisation. The differing script prompted Dobbs to continue the series. [ [ BBC - BBC Four Drama - House of Cards ] ]

"House of Cards" draws heavily from Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and "Richard III",Or|date=June 2008 both of which examine issues of power, unbridled ambition and corruption. Richardson said he based his performance of the scheming Francis Urquhart on the way Shakespeare portrayed Richard III.cite web | url= | title=Richardson's rule in House of Cards | publisher=BBC | accessdate=2008-06-04]

"I couldn't possibly comment"

Frequently during the drama, Urquhart talks through the camera to the audience, breaking the fourth wall. The drama also introduced and popularised the phrase: 'You may very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment'. It was used by Urquhart whenever he could not be seen to agree with a question, with the emphasis on either the 'I' or the 'possibly' depending on the situation.


"House of Cards" begins with Francis Urquhart sitting at a desk, commenting that 'Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday.' He is referring to Margaret Thatcher, who in the "House of Cards" universe has just left office. This then requires that the Tories (for whom Urquhart is a Member of Parliament (MP) and Chief Whip) elect a new leader. This new leader is Henry ('Hal') Collingridge, a decent man of whom Urquhart is secretly contemptuous ('no background and no bottom').

Their new leader chosen, the Conservatives then face the next general election. They win by a narrow majority of around twenty-four seats, and Urquhart expects to be given a senior position in the Cabinet afterwards. However, citing the political demise of Harold Macmillan after he sacked half his Cabinet, the newly elected Prime Minister effects no reshuffle at all. Being stuck as Chief Whip antagonises Urquhart, who then resolves to get rid of Collingridge. His wife, Elizabeth, convinces Francis of his ability to take the job of Prime Minister and to begin a campaign to destabilise Collingridge's leadership. To do this, he enlists the services of one of the Tories' public relations consultants, Roger O'Neill, a former Irish rugby international who now has a cocaine habit that had been funded by his Tory expense account. Urquhart, as Chief Whip, threatens to expose this unless O'Neill does as he says.

O'Neill, a gentle and charming but unstable man, then works with Urquhart to undermine Collingridge. O'Neill gives an Opposition MP, Stephen Kendrick, information concerning hospital cuts, that would make Collingridge look foolish at Prime Minister's Question Time. He also sets the scene for Urquhart himself to pose as Collingridge's gentle, alcoholic 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 dealing and this, combined with his eroding image and his bad showing at the Brighton Party Conference, eventually force him to resign. Urquhart gains Collingridge's confidence, while at the same time supplanting Tory Party Chairman and grandee, Lord 'Teddy' Billsborough. Billsborough is later sacked by Collingridge as Party Chairman, Urquhart having stated that it was Billsborough who was behind the campaign of leaks from the Cabinet to assist the leadership chances of his close friend, Michael Samuels.

The second half of "House of Cards" deals with the manner in which Urquhart gets himself chosen as Party Leader and Prime Minister. At first pretending to be unwilling to stand, like Richard III,Or|date=June 2008 he eventually announces his intention to run and goes about making sure his competitors drop out of the race, with the help of his friend and underling, the weasel-ish Tim Stamper (played by Colin Jeavons) and with the less eager assistance of Roger O'Neill. At the same time, Urquhart begins (with his beautiful wife's blessing and implied encouragement) an affair with the junior political reporter, Mattie Storin. It appears the Urquhart's believe that Francis's affair will give him a power over Mattie that will enable him to manipulate her position at the main (fictional) newspaper,"The Chronicle", to ensure that, within its pages, Francis comes off well and his rivals for the leadership, very badly. Mattie, while talented, is naïve and apparently somewhat unstable. She has an apparent Electra complexOr|date=June 2008 and, declaring that she cannot call Urquhart by his given name of 'Francis', announces that she wants to refer to him as 'daddy'. 'Daddy' is a word that later figures prominently in Urquhart's painful flashbacks of Mattie.

Urquhart's rivals for the Tory leadership and the Prime Minister's role are eliminated as follows:

*Harold Earle — Education. Blackmailed into withdrawing by Urquhart and Stamper sending him pictures of him and a rentboy engaging in oral sex.
*Peter MacKenzie — Health. Hit by bad public relations after an incident staged by Urquhart involving his car running over a disabled person at a protest demonstration; forced to withdraw.
*Patrick Woolton—Foreign Secretary. Urquhart pressures O'Neill into persuading his personal assistant and mistress, Penny Guy, to have sex with Woolton at the Party Conference, and sneaks a bugged ministerial red box into Woolton's suite, and records their encounter. Urquhart sends Woolton the tape, thus blackmailing Woolton into stepping down from the contest.
*Michael Samuels—Environment. The ablest of Urquhart's rivals, Samuels has his reputation tarnished when it is leaked that he was in favour of homosexual rights, nuclear disarmament CND, and communism in his Cambridge days (the Tory point of view frowns on these things). Samuels is also Jewish and it is hinted that this is also a negative characteristic in the eyes of some in the Party (in particular Woolton, portrayed as an anti-Semite).

Urquhart gets the backing of Woolton when he withdraws and, in an ironic twist, Collingridge, himself, who proclaims Urquhart's complete loyalty to him and his leadership.

Though initially blind to the truth of matters thanks to her affair and infatuation with Urquhart, Mattie eventually deduces that Urquhart and his associates are behind the unfortunate downfalls of Collingridge and all of Urquhart's rivals. Urquhart orders O'Neill to arrange for Mattie's car to be vandalised and a brick to be thrown through the window of her flat, in order to deter her from following up on the story. O'Neill complies, with the assistance of his girlfriend, Penny Guy, but is becoming increasingly uneasy with what he is being asked to do and with the possibility of being discovered. His cocaine habit is also adding to his instability and he begins to become a problem for Urquhart, who promises him a knighthood to keep him quiet but then murders him in order to ensure his silence. Urquhart gets Roger drunk and then mixes his cocaine with rat poison while Roger sleeps. When Roger awakes, he leaves the Urquhart residence, takes the cocaine in a lavatory rest-stop of the M27 motorway, and dies.

"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 on the roof garden of the Houses of Parliament, where she confronts him. He admits to what he has done, in particular, to Roger O'Neill's murder. He then asks whether he can trust her. Despite Mattie saying the famous line: 'You know you can,' he says he doesn't believe her and throws her off the roof. Mattie screams 'Daddy!' as she falls to her death, onto the roof of a van parked below. This is where the ending of the TV series differs from the novel; in the latter, it is Urquhart that falls to his death, knowing that Mattie will not hide her information. The book did not contain a romance between Mattie and Urquhart, as the dramatisation did. It is implied that Urquhart defeats Samuels in the second leadership ballot; as the series ends with him being driven to Buckingham Palace to be invited to form a government by the Queen as the new Prime Minister.

The viewer is aware of two clear loose ends that Urquhart does not tie up in this chapter. An unidentified figure is seen to collect Mattie's dictaphone from her lifeless body (although what happens to her dictaphone is revealed in "To Play the King", the identity of the person is not; there is only what Tim Stamper says to Sarah Harding: 'Someone picks up the cassette; not me; not one of my chaps'). Earlier scenes had established that Mattie was in the habit of recording her conversations with Urquhart. There is also John Krajewski, to whom Mattie had confided both her affair with Urquhart and her suspicions that Urquhart was behind the chain of unfortunate coincidences that resulted in his emerging as the only viable candidate for the Tory Party Leadership and post of Prime Minister.

In this first part of the trilogy, the camera frequently focuses on rats for the symbolic effect of filth and conspiracy.


* There is a roof terrace which is three floors up from the House of Commons. The terrace overlooks Star Chamber Court where Post Office vans park. The 'roof garden' in the TV adaptation was however in fact shot on the roof of a building across the road from the Houses of Parliament.
* The series' interiors (set in the Palace of Westminster) were shot in Manchester Town Hall.
* By complete chance, the first BBC showing of the series exactly coincided with the real life Conservative Party leadership election: the dramatic removal from office of Margaret Thatcher.
* There is an error in the series relating to the election results as reported. Collingridge's government has a majority of a hundred seats and we are told that they lose about seventy seats, leaving them with a majority of around thirty (twenty-four). Since every seat lost by one Party is a gain for the others, a loss of seventy seats from a hundred-seat majority would actually result in a forty-seat deficit.
*'You may very well think that...' has also been used in the media on occasions where people do not want to commit to a clear 'yes' or 'no'. [cite web | url= | title=House of Cards' Richardson dies | accessdate=2008-06-04 | publisher=BBC]
* Ian Richardson reprised his role of Francis Urquhart in a Rover advert from 2006, again using the famous catchphrase: "You might very well think that, but of course, I couldn't possibly comment."

Notable differences from the book

In the book:
*Michael Dobbs attempts to conceal Urquhart's political allegiance; the TV series openly makes him a member of the Conservative Party.
* Mattie Storin does not have a relationship with Urquhart or even talk with him frequently; she does have a sexual relationship with John Krajewski.
* Urquhart's wife is called 'Miranda' and is an extremely minor character, not sharing in his schemes. (In "To Play the King" and "The Final Cut", however, she is called 'Elizabeth' and plays a larger role, as in the BBC drama.)
* Tim Stamper does not exist (although Dobbs introduced him in "To Play the King").
* Urquhart is much less self-assured and decisive. He also smokes and swears frequently.
* Earle's rent boy appears in person at an important speech of his, distracting him; subsequently, Earle is harassed by reporters who have been told of his indiscretion.
* At the end, Urquhart threatens to kill Mattie Storin by hitting her with a chair, but refrains in a fit of cowardice, and jumps off the roof to his death after she leaves the roof garden.
* Urquhart never speaks directly to the reader; the character is written solely in a third-person perspective. In the series, he regularly speaks directly into the camera to his viewers.
* The Party Conference was in Bournemouth, not Brighton.
* Mattie Storin worked for the real newspaper "The Daily Telegraph" not the fictional "Chronicle".
* Benjamin Landless is from the slums of East London, instead of being Canadian.

ee also

*Politics in fiction.
*"A Very British Coup", a similar drama of fictional contemporary British politics from a left-wing perspective.
* "Yes Minister", a satirical sitcom about a generic British government, widely described by politicians as accurate.
*"Terry Pratchett's Hogfather" where Death (voiced by Ian Richardson) utters Francis Urquhart's famous catchphrase.


External links

*imdb title|id=0098825|title=House of Cards
* [ "House of Cards"] at BBC Four
* [ "House of Cards"] at Action TV
* [ "House of Cards"] at British Film Institute Screen Online

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