Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

House of Cards

(UK, 1990)

Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams.
Richard III

What a find! This four-hour mini-series takes place just after the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, and chronicles the machinations of one Francis Urquhart (pronounced, with typical British illogic, “UR-cutt.”) to obtain the position of Prime Minister for himself. And I swear, if it came to a smackdown between FU and Niccolò Machiavelli, Urquhart would eat that Italian alive. Seldom has there been a screen portrayal of such a total snake, such a devious, manipulative rascal as the great Ian Richardson shows us here. He immediately goes on my list of greatest villains of all time, with a bullet. And the thing that makes him so wonderful is that he just enjoys himself so much. All through the show he pauses to directly address us at length, in the manner of Richard III, or with a short aside as he walks by, or simply with a glance at us and an eloquently raised eyebrow. It is amazing to watch. His wife, as ambitious as he, would frighten Lady MacBeth. And no one knows! He is universally seen as a good guy, the faithful Party Whip, cleaning up messes made by coke-sniffing or gay MPs, self-effacing, accepting the nomination to be PM only reluctantly, and only after all his opponents have crashed and burned … and guess who was responsible for those downfalls? No one is onto him except, finally, Mattie Storin (wonderfully played by Susannah Harker), a new political reporter looking to make her name, who thinks she’s using him as a deep background source (and his lover) when actually he’s playing her like a trout. It is to her that he delivers the line that he made so famous that it’s now a permanent part of real-life political discourse in the UK: “You might very well think that; but I couldn’t possibly comment.” (Meaning “Yes, but I’ll deny everything if challenged.”) That line is used a dozen times, and it gets funnier every time, until you’re reciting it with him. The series is based on a book written by Michael Dobbs, who was once the Chief of Staff of the Tories, so he was in a position to observe and even initiate the sort of events he writes about. (Did he? I think he’d reply “You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”) The best news of all is that there are two sequels. I can hardly wait.