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House of Cards not just new game

House Of Cards poster

Written by : published Wednesday 13th February 2013

As Netflix successfully launches their new House of Cards, the original British version is now available on Blu-ray from the BBC. The premise is basically the same, though set in a different country at a different time. Some may wonder if a twenty year old British miniseries can compare to the premium offering of today. The answer is, yes.

BBC's House of Cards Trilogy isn't just a historical footnote. It is an Emmy-winning political thriller that birthed the genre on television. It holds up incredibly well, with intrigue and twists, and some terrific acting. There are plenty enough differences from the Netflix show that it feels like a different beast, and yet, the basic character profiles are the same, even if the names have changed. If you like the new one, it's definitely worth your time to see where it came from.

In the BBC's incarnation, divided into three four-episode miniseries airing throughout the 1990s, the center of the program is Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson, Becoming Jane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the whip in Parliament. Francis is denied a cabinet posting by his party's new prime minister, and begins pulling the strings necessary to bring down young upstart Henry Collingridge (David Lyon).

Urquhart is a master manipulator, and he even tries to sway the audience with his soliloquies to the camera, done in the Shakespearean style, as, after all, House of Cards finds its roots in Henry III. He is an expert at getting people to do what he wants them to. Collingridge would like Francis to use this talent on his behalf in the governing body. Francis, feeling snubbed, chooses instead to pit those same skills against Collingridge. It's something Collingridge should see coming and be wary of, but in his arrogance, it's not.

Urquhart has plenty of help from those around him that he has bent to his will. There's Roger O'Neill (Miles Anderson, Holby City), the public servant whose bad habits make him especially vulnerable, so much so that his capable assistant, Penny Guy (Alphonsia Emmanuel) can't help. There's Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher, A.I), Francis' loyal, ambitious, and open-mined wife. And fresh-faced reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker, Pride and Prejudice), who thinks she's playing the game with Francis, but in the end finds herself hopelessly outmatched.

The first four episodes, which are under the House of Cards title, detail Urquhart's struggle against Collingridge for control of the government. By the second series, To Play the King, Francis graduates from such lowly opponents, and, now serving as prime minister, pits himself against the new monarch of the British Empire. Finally, in the conclusion of the trilogy, The Final Cut, Francis not only finds himself reflecting on his past and misdeeds as his career winds to an end, but also embroiled in someone else's version of his own scheme.

All in all, it's a masterful twelve installments included in this three-disc set. House of Cards is uniquely British, and for those of us unfamiliar with their system, it gives us a glimpse into how it all works. And yet, human nature is, at its heart, the same everywhere. The accents and personalities may change a bit, but the driving motivations will seem familiar to fans of similar work, even from the American catalogue.

This Blu-ray set looks very good. The picture and sound have been restored, and while one can still tell it was filmed in the 1990s based on style and setting, the clarity doesn't give away its age. A masterful job has been done in the updating of the work, and viewers will not be distracted by grainy pictures and hissing soundtracks.

As for extras, there is audio commentary on select episodes from star Richardson and the award-winning screenwriter Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice). Davies also gives an interview about To Play the King, and the controversy surrounding its release. A featurette takes us inside the walls of Parliament, letting us see the real world of British government. Because of the involvement of Davies and Richardson, probably the two most vital to how well House of Cards works, I am satisfied with the offerings.

House of Cards Trilogy is available now on Blu-ray wherever discs are sold.

Want to read some of my fiction? It's on my website, JeromeWetzel.com! Also, for the latest updates and article links, as well as commentary on episodes I don't fully review, please follow me on Twitter.

Watch Episode 1 - The House of Cards - Episode 1 online

About the author JeromeWetzelTV


Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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