Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

David Fincher erects a House of Cards for Netflix

The first trailer is in for Netflix’s adaptation of Michael Dobbs’s admired TV series House of Cards. It is faintly terrifying to recall that the original series emerged a full 22 years ago. Of course it did. Oldies will remember …

Sun, Nov 18, 2012, 18:25

   
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The first trailer is in for Netflix’s adaptation of Michael Dobbs’s admired TV series House of Cards. It is faintly terrifying to recall that the original series emerged a full 22 years ago. Of course it did. Oldies will remember that the Westminster thriller — involving machinations to remove an unpopular Tory Prime Minister — was screened just as Mrs Thatcher was being levered from power. More than a few contemporaneous commentators drew comparisons with a similar coincidence a decade earlier: the broadcast of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy clashed with the announcement that Anthony Blunt was a Soviet spy.

Anyway, the first series offered an impressive, insidious, cynical analysis of how Westminster functions. The second and third outings became too overheated and made rather too promiscuous use of the anti-hero’s sly catchphrase.”You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.”

The American series has been touted as “David Fincher’s House of Cards” (by me for example). In fact, he is an executive producer and directs two of the episodes. Other directors listed include James Foley and Joel Schumacher. The casting of Kevin Spacey seems like a reasonably good idea. In the original series, Ian Richardson made a camp Richard III of Francis Urquhart, chief whip, and — having recently played that role in London — Mr Spacey looks capable of carrying the baton. As before, he is breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera. I like the sly laugh in the opening scene. Robin Wright also seems well cast as (to mix our Shakespearian allusions) the Lady Macbeth of the piece.

There is potential here. But there are also possible pitfalls. The class of arch, public-school mincing that Richardson perfected — and Spacey seems to be repeating — doesn’t resonate so strongly in the US. There are dozens of old Etonions in Westminster who once made toast for exactly this class of sexually uncertain prefect. More seriously, the role of Majority Whip in the House doesn’t have anything like the relative power of Chief Whip for the governing party in the UK. It is not at all inconceivable that, during a time of instability, the British official could engineer the removal of a sitting Prime Minister. It would be much more difficult for a House Whip to unseat a serving president. All Francis Urquhart needed to do was suggest that the PM might lose a vote of no confidence. His American equivalent does not have those sorts of levers within his grasp. Still, we look forward with interest.

The other intriguing point here is, of course, the means of delivery. You read that right. The programme is the first major US drama series to be made for a video-download service. Interestingly, Netflix has observed the passion for box-set blowouts and elected to release all 13 episodes on February 1st. This makes some sort of sense. But it remains a brave move. Isn’t there still a large wad of viewers that rather enjoys the anticipation of waiting for another week? Doesn’t this now sound even more like a “straight-to-DVD” release? Oh, heck. Old bastards like your current bore made the same sort of objections when iTunes was released. Look where that got us.

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