Operation reconciliation: a taste of controversy mustn't lead to a binge
Clips of Laurence Olivier as Richard III were lobbed in at random intervals, and experts gave details about how they were proceeding, with their open scepticism receding as the science began to back up Langley’s theory.
Much time was spent peering into the hole in the car park – beside a parking space labelled with the letter R, which Langley took as a further sign that “Richard wanted to be found”.
It’s such a big story that a more serious documentary about it will probably be made, but none will be quite as shambolicly eccentric as this one. And no one will peer at the skeleton, as Farnaby did, and comment that the king was stabbed “basically in the arse”.
Even those who don’t subscribe to Netflix will probably be aware – there has been huge publicity – that the video-on-demand service commissioned House of Cards, a $100 million political drama starring Kevin Spacey. All 13 parts were released last Sunday, just in time for a weekend of binge viewing. I’ve managed only two episodes – there are no cliffhangers, so you don’t feel compelled to watch the lot – but they’re terrific.
It’s a stylish, smart and very American version of the BBC’s 1990s Westminster-based drama, with Spacey as Frank Underwood, a Democratic congressman overlooked for a top job in the new administration. Driven by that disappointment and by his terrifyingly manipulative wife, Claire (Robin Wright), he sets out to destroy the man who took his place as secretary of state and to undermine the president, his one-time political ally.
The first two episodes are all about putting his pawns in place in the claustrophobic hub of Washington. They include Kate Mara as the driven young journalist Zoe Barnes (she demands a blog from her editor because print is dead), whose youthful hubris makes her believe she can manipulate Underwood.
There’s nothing particularly new in the politically charged, power-hungry machinations – The West Wing and any number of movies have seen to that – but it is still absorbing. It features a chilling performance from Spacey, his soft Southern drawl and gentlemanly air masking a ruthless drive for power.
David Fincher, who also directed Fight Club and The Social Network, establishes his characters with ruthless economy. In an opening scene a dog is knocked down outside Underwood’s house, and as the congressman cradles the injured mutt he breaks the fourth wall (a dramatic device that can be almost menacing) and, looking straight to camera, says: “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, and useless pain, the sort that’s only suffering.”
Then we hear the crunch as he breaks the dog’s neck.
Ones to Watch Cowboys, mobsters and bankers
Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in Vegas (Sky Atlantic, Thursday). A cowboys-versus-mobsters series set in 1960s Nevada, it was created by Nicholas Pileggi, who knows his way around a Mob story, having screenwritten Goodfellas and Casino.
If your blood pressure can take more banking woe, Richard Curran explores what happened at the failed building society in Inside Irish Nationwide (RTÉ One, Monday).