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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 5 (Review)

Friends make the worst enemies

– Frank Underwood

There is a sense now that House of Cards has figured out what it wants to be and how it wants to go about being that sort of thing. After the first three episodes were surprisingly non-committal, the fourth and fifth episodes make it clear that Frank has a plan for revenge against those who betrayed him, one that stretches a bit further than scuttling Michael Kern’s chance to be Secretary of State. There’s a wonderfully understated moment in the middle of this fifth episode where it looks like Frank has finally figured everything out, the pieces have aligned in such a way that he is positioned to speed up what is likely to be a pretty far-reaching payback scheme.

A name you can trust...

A name you can trust…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 4 (Review)

So you lied to his face?

No. I revised the parametres of my promise.

Which is lying.

Which is politics.

– Bob Birch and Frank Underwood

After spending three episodes lining everything up and getting all the plot points and characters to where they need to be, it looks like House of Cards is finally ready to kick into high gear. There’s still a sense that show isn’t as comfortable with its amoral and sociopathic lead character as it should be, but there’s finally a sense of what Frank Underwood is capable of. We’ve seen him topple the incoming Secretary of State using just a college article that the man didn’t write, but that sort of politicking should be second-nature to Underwood at this point. Here, Frank is a bit more ruthless, a bit less concerned about collateral damage.

That’s really the key here. House of Cards needs us to root for Frank despite his drive for power at all costs, without excusing it. It looks like we’re getting to where we need to be.

Speaking Frankly...

Speaking Frankly…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 3 (Review)

Dammit, Frank! You can’t just roll up on my property like you own it!

Oh but I can.

And we’re back to square one. I suppose this is inevitable in the transition to American television, but House of Cards is beginning to feel strangely episodic. The British version ran ran for four episodes, moving at an incredible pace as Francis Urquhart manipulated his way to the position of Prime Minister. The American version, running thirteen episodes, seems to be more about stopping and starting. Indeed, there’s relatively little traction here on the Secretary of State subplot, or Frank Underwood’s plan for political revenge against those who he feels wronged him.

Instead, this third episode feels like something of a breather episode, the kind of character-orientated piece that might have worked a bit later in the year, after the show had built up a decent momentum. Instead, it seems like we accelerated last time only to pump the breaks this time around.

Just peachy...

Just peachy…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 2 (Review)

Get ready, Cathy, things are about to move very quickly.

– Frank is moving

That’s more like it. After a rocky season premiere, it looks like House of Cards might finally be settling into a groove. It’s very strange to see a four-part BBC drama adapted into a full thirteen-episode season of an American television show. Of course, the United States has a very different political system, so the machinations of the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives could never overlap fully with those of Sir Francis Urquhart. However, the first episode needed a sense of traction that was so sorely lacking.

Luckily, the second episode picks up the slack. The pieces are all in play, the characters are established. The game can be afoot.

Underwood tactics...

Underwood tactics…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 1 (Review)

House of Cards is a classic piece of BBC television, the story of a Chief Whip in the House of Parliament who is so slighted by the incoming Prime Minister’s refusal to promote him that he decides to bring the whole Conservative Party crashing down around him. If you’re at all interested in political drama, British wit or even great television, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Still, I suppose that an American adaptation was inevitable. And, to be fair, you couldn’t have asked for greater talent. Kevin Spacey stars as Francis Underwood, the Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. David Fincher is producing and directing the two first episodes. It’s written by Beau Willimon, who wrote both The Ides of March and the stage play Farragut North, upon which it was based. That’s a very talented bunch of people.

And yet, one episode in, it feels a little uneven. It’s not so much the sense that the new House of Cards seems to have a bit of bother figuring out what made the original so great, nor is it the fact that changes have to be made in translating the story from London to Washington. It’s more a sense that show is really trying to figure out what it wants to be.

Let's be Frank...

Let’s be Frank…

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The Final Cut (Review)

The third and final part of the House of Cards trilogy, The Final Cut exists to bring to a close the story of Francis Urquhart, the iconic and conniving fictional British Prime Minister. Portraying Urquhart during his twilight years, the series presents a man who has arguably faced and overcome all the challenges that the world has to offer. While The Final Cut lacks a clear focal point like House of Cards and To Play the King, it is a fitting conclusion to the epic saga, with a powerhouse central performance from Ian Richardson as the Machiavellian Tory Prime Minister.

Still in his Prime?

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To Play the King (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. Read my thoughts on the service here, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

You’ve got the King against the Prime Minister, the Lords against the Commons. The bishops are in now, you’ve got “don’t blame the royals”, and – in particular – you’ve got Urquhart’s plan to bring down the monarchy for good and all. And they’ve all played the personal morality card. Every one of them. Which means, in my book, that everybody’s private life is now up for grabs. And I mean everybody’s!

– Sir Bruce Bullerby sums it up

The second part of the House of Cards trilogy has some fairly interesting subject matter. While Francis Urquharts Machiavellian rise to power was enough to ground the first four-part serial, it does occasionally feel like To Play The King has just a bit too much going on. Of course, Andrew Davies’ tight scripting ensures that all the necessary subplots are tidied up before we reach the end credits of the final episode, but things do occasionally feel just a little bit too packed. Still, it’s hard to blame a television show for having too much substance, and there’s a compelling issue at the heart of To Play The King, as novelist Michael Dodds takes the opportunity to explore Britain’s constitutional monarchy, and the possibility of friction that a proactive King might present.

A crowning accomplishment for the BBC?

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