Final Play [2002]

Connoisseurs of political chicanery will relish House of Cards, the mordantly funny story of Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), a British politician with his eye on the top job. Urquhart is the chief whip of the Conservative Party and his job is to maintain party discipline, or, as he likes to say, "put a bit of stick about." This means that he has intimate knowledge of his colleagues' foibles, knowledge that he uses to further his own political ambitions. Aided by his equally ruthless wife and drawing on a network of accomplices, Urquhart forces the prime minister to resign then sets out to discredit each of his rivals for the party leadership. Although it is strongly cast throughout, House of Cards belongs to Ian Richardson. Without his perfectly balanced performance, Urquhart might have become no more than a two-dimensional villain, but Richardson finds exactly the right tone to make his character as attractive as he is wicked. Thanks to Richardson, and a superb script by Andrew Davies, this brilliant political satire is sure to delight anyone who has wondered what might be going on in the darker corners of our democratic institutions. In To Play the King, Urquhart appears to have everything he wants. He is the prime minister, he has no immediate rivals, and everyone who knows of his crimes is either on his side or dead. But a new challenge arises when the queen dies and the new king (Michael Kitchen doing a perfect Prince Charles) proves to be a thorn in Urquhart's side. Urquhart may be a staunch defender of the monarchy as a concept, but an individual sovereign is fair game if he proves to be a threat. With a Davies script that pokes fun at British politics and the antics of the royal family as well as a terrific cast led again by Ian Richardson, To Play the King maintains the high standard set by House of Cards. The Final Cut, the last installment of the trilogy, strikes a more somber note than its predecessors. Urquhart has almost overtaken Margaret Thatcher to become Britain's longest serving postwar leader, but the public is tiring of him and there are rumblings of dissent in the Conservative Party. Urquhart and his wife plot to secure both their place in history and their financial future. Once again, writer Andrew Davies has created a satire to relish, one that confirms all of our doubts about the motives of politicians. Ian Richardson's wonderful performance--filled with sly asides and winks to the camera--makes Francis Urquhart as fascinating as he is wicked, and we find ourselves rooting for this terrible man. The world would certainly be a duller place without him. --Simon Leake

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