House of Cards, US vs UK editions

2013's House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as a ruthless politician on his way to the top, was based upon 1990's House of Cards, starring Ian Richardson as a ruthless politician on his way to the top. They are both brilliant shows (catch a scene from the earlier version above), and an excellent illustration of the differences between American and British politics, drama and humor.

The comparison between the U.S. and U.K. versions of this program shows something about why I feel so profoundly American (rather than British), but also why the Brits excel at just this kind of thing. There are lots of tough breaks in Kevin Spacey's House of Cards, but in the end there is a jauntiness to it. People kill themselves; politicians lie and traduce; no one can be trusted -- and still, somewhere deep it has a kind of American optimism. That's us (and me). USA! USA! It's different in the UK version. Richardson's Francis Urquhart reminds us that his is the nation whose imagination produced Iago, and Uriah Heep, and Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim" Dixon. This comedy here is truly cruel -- and, one layer down, even bleaker and more squalid than it seems at first.

Both editions are on Netflix—the UK one is only a four-hour miniseries, too.

Notable Replies

  1. There are two other 4-hour series of the BBC version, as well. They function as extensions of the original story; they're just titled differently -- "To Play the King" and "The Final Cut." That second one gets in a great pun, too, by extending the card analogy while also referencing the monarchy, which is Francis' main opponent in that one.

  2. The third series' title is also a playing card pun!

  3. Brits excel at just this kind of thing

    You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

  4. An excellent observation, but I don't agree with your spin.

    The US has two loose coalitions instead of parties in the EU sense. Thus, an FU character (Francis Urquart / Frank Underwood) must operate differently in the two settings. In the US, a powerful politician doesn't worry about intra-party discipline, but instead co-ordinates a diverse set of individuals both in and out of Congress, and on both sides of the aisle. The coalitions to move any particular issue forward are quite flexible, and thus FU must be as well.

    Both FUs have a clear "reason for existing." In both the US and the UK series, the opening move was a loyal FU being betrayed by the Prime Minister/ President, to which FU responded by manipulating the levers of power. The levers are different, but neither the character nor the motivations are.

    In the US " a [Rep] can maneuver to destroy people in his own party for advancement." FU's version of this maneuvering is a bit extreme - in both settings - but peer into the shadows of Congress and you'll see that Kevin Spacey and David Fincher have a lot of raw material to work with. (eg. Paul Teller)

  5. Brilliant, in the House of Cards context. The crossing of a meaningful chinese ideograph and a not-less-meaningful abbreviation.

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