1 9 9 0 (UK)
4 x 60 minute episodes
This superb BBC drama serial charted the rise to Number 10 of ambitious Tory Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), known by the intentionally provocative initials F.U.
Richardson based his character on Richard III, and the series offers other Shakespearian touches. Urquhart’s wife (Diane Fletcher) is clearly a modern version of Lady Macbeth, the clandestine court intrigues suggest many of the history plays and the minister’s candid soliloquies to the audience (direct to camera) are also reminiscent of Elizabethan drama.
Urquhart cunningly drew the viewer into complicity, culminating in him pushing his young mistress, naive junior political reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), to her death from the parapet of the House of Commons as he ascends to the leadership of the Conservative party.
By the good fortune of the programming gods, the broadcast of House Of Cards coincided with the downfall of Margaret Thatcher and went on to become a best-selling drama around the world.
A sequel, To Play The King (1993), followed the problems of Urquhart’s tenure as it came under pressure from a new, trendy monarch.
Rounding off the trilogy was The Final Cut (1995), which saw Francis Urquhart besieged, amidst declining electoral fortunes, by his own bestial cabinet.
Liberally adapted by Andrew Davies from the novels of Michael Dobbs, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, the dramas had the strange ring of prophecy, with their scenarios of sexual scandals, leadership scheming and a ruling party oblivious to any interest save the maintenance of power.
Asked for his verdict on the 2013 American remake with Kevin Spacey, Davies responded with the Urquhart-esque, “I’m not allowed to say something bad about the show, so I won’t say anything”.