Friday, 10 October 2014

The Underwood/Urqhart Easter (House of Cards US and UK versions compared)

<I'm about to start a Masters course so I'm uploading all the blogposts written but not posted for various reasons. The first of these didn't get posted last Easter.>

"I wish things were that ruthlessly efficient...It's true. I was looking at Kevin Spacey thinking, 'this guy's getting a lot of stuff done'"
Barack Obama on the second series of HOUSE OF CARDS 

Stuck for something to do over Easter? I can't recommend it for family viewing but I was up until 2am recently watching to the end of S2 of House of Cards - US version. I've binge watched S1+S2 over the last week. As everyone says it is perfect 'boxed set' watching, it slides down very very easy, like port. (And like port you feel faintly unpleasant afterwards)

I was up until 2am watching to the end of S2 of House of Cards - US version. I've binge watched S1+S2 over the last week. It looks sensational, every inch a David Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network, The Game) production, eventually becoming a gripping White House drama like the West Wing, but more realistic in every depiction of US government - except the level of achievement. 

The power couple in charge, played by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, both hypnotic, grow within the sheen of Fincher's camera to look more and more like the vampires in Tony Scott's The Hunger. A scene were they seduce their own secret service bodyguard is creepier than anything in Tony Scott's horror movie.

Even weeks later I could not get the music and opening titles of House of Cards out of my head, and again it is one of those US shows where even though you've seen five episodes in a row you still watch the titles. The camera glides around an empty twilight Washington as if it were a cyberpunk Transylvania, complete with lifeless figurines and giant mausoleums,  masterfully suggesting the seductive and ultimately toxic nature of the setting.

I'm left  at the end of S2, realising that Spacey  as in Se7en has an inexorable plan coming to fruition, just as I have an inexorable need to eat the southern fried ribs from Freddy's BBQ joint. As brilliantly played by Reg E. Cathey, watching Freddy getting dragged into the Washington cesspit is a subplot worthy of a movie itself.

Thankfully there is enough of a conscience within me to hope the US series of House of Cards ends with with Frank Underwood being revealed a a puppet of Leslie Knope (from Parks and Recreation, something else I've indulged in recently).

Next Easter I may well watch the whole thing again, perhaps with ribs.

BBC's House of Cards (watched after the US version)

Watched immediately after the US version, the BBC version of House of Cards looks as cheap and tacky as Open All Hours. Comparing the opening titles and music between US and UK versions is particular painful.

The hideous 80s / 90s women's fashions don't help. I went through a stage in the 80s when dungarees were the sexiest thing a woman could wear. One look some of the colourlessness bagging poor Mattie Storin is forced to parade around in and you can see why dungarees seemed like the black suspenders of the decade, Susannah Harker was awarded a deserved BAFTA for the role and I hope it was worth the embarrassment,

Once you have adjusted to the horror of looking at that era you realise it has a stack more charm than the deadly cold US version, which is more "Veep for Vampires"  rather than the often repeated "West Wing For Werewolves". Before you reach the end dated nature of the BBC series has actually become a big positive.

I have not read the Andrew Davies books on which these series are based, I suspect they contain a lot more detail on how the Urqharts/Underwood's work as a married couple - which is fleshed out more in the US version thanks to the broader scope and budget. I remember the books were nauseatingly trendy among the chattering classes in the late 80s and quickly fell out of favour after 'distasteful' speculation about events post the death of Mrs Thatcher (which history finally caught up with recently). These decades of passed time gives the the UK House of Cards a whole new perspective. If the original House of Cards now looks initially like a cheesy prototype for the current US version, watched from a 21st century perspective the original series eventually becomes gripping alternative history :  -namely what if the mild. bland successor to Thatcher, John Major, was Richard III?

Though the first of the BBC series will be familiar from watching the US version, the much maligned (at the time) second series, dealing with FU's management of the new King will seem quite fresh. There is what appears to be informed detail about the Monarchy and what was once treasonous fantasy about the inner workings of government after the breakup of Charles and Diana's marriage now looks quite insightful.

It must have scared the hell out of the royals and the mutual contempt between royals for the press is laid bare throughout House of Cards second season.

As Davies was a close Thatcherite insider it is difficult not to see it all as historical confession on the attitudes and ruthlessness of the whole era. Sadly, for all it's tastelessness predicting the death of Mrs Thatcher and the current Queen, the real world hounding to death of Diana at the hands of the press was too depressing a plot even for the mind of Andrew Davies and Francis Urqhart to imagine.

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