Saturday, March 24, 2012

House of Cards: To Play the King Part 4 AKA How I can be wrong!

If you have not seen any of the House of Cards series, please note that these articles are very spoilerific and I will give away plot points. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.

I am not a too proud of a man to admit when he is wrong. Most all of my guesses about what was going to happen to characters in To Play the King were completely wrong. Where I had some pretty strong ideas about what was going to happen with Mattie’s tape recorder and a number of the characters were quite off, I am a little disappointed because it was clear that things were more straight forward than I expected them to be in this series. That is not to say I did not enjoy the outcome of To Play the King, it just means that I was overthinking the whole damn thing. I almost feel like I fell into the trap of current TV thinking things had to have multiple twists and turns to be enjoyable and that is simply not true.
For the past four weeks, I have been treating myself to the second series of one of the greatest television programs I have ever seen. Because it has taken so long to see this second series (5 years) it feels like an epic sequel in the making. Now after all of this time, we come to the end of To Play the King.

Click here to read about Episode One
Click here to read about Episode Two

Click here to read about Episode Three

Episode Four TX: 12/12/93
As we left off last week, it looked like it was going to be the final battle between the King and Francis Urquhart. It’s not quite as epic as I would have thought. In House of Cards, Urquhart had a quiet ruthlessness that was shocking yet addictive to watch. As mentioned last week, in this series he is kind of a thug or a mob boss. He squared off against the King. It is dangerous for him as he has now called a general election.

We start the episode with Sarah and Stamper negotiating with a person within the BBC what is the best way for Urquhart to interview on TV. It almost looks like Sarah and Stamper are getting along. They actually work very well together even though they have issues with each other. Stamper is clearly jealous of her since she is working very closely with Urquhart. Stamper has not gotten much luck out of Urquhart lately. He does all of Urquhart’s horrible deeds such as blackmailing other people for Urquhart’s gain yet he is not getting the positions in the government he wants.

Later when the Prime Minister is alone, Corder and Elizabeth come to see him. It looks like Corder is going to speak to Urquhart and is about to take something out of his suit coat pocket when an explosion is heard and rocks 10 Downing Street. Everyone in the room is unsure of what this is and as Corder says, “It’s not one of ours.” In fact it is a block of flats that suffered a gas explosion.
On the way to the scene, Urquhart tells us that it is always Events that get in the way of running the government. Events, such as this gas explosion, where Urquhart would prefer not to meet people but to instead run the government. At the scene it is total destruction. Many are dead. The King is there too. Urquhart and the King exchange some tough words and as a rescue worker near them loses their hold on a stretcher carrying a body, the King run downs to them and says, “Please, let me help.” This moment is captured by the press and this phrase captures the imagination of the country. “Please Let me Help.” There is a swing against Urquhart and public opinion starts loom against him. The King starts to get more confidence.

While the King is working out in Buckingham Palace, Chloe comes in. She is getting braver with her suggestions to him. She knows that he trusts her and much of the way he is now seen by the public has been helped by her suggestions. She suggests that the King goes on a “National Tour”. He should go to areas that Urquhart would never be seen in. He could show the country that he really cares for his people and that he is a stark contradiction to what Urquhart stands for. This way, it could also bring more support to the people that are running against Urquhart. Chloe then kisses the King.

As you know, I always like to see BBC Television Centre in programs and it makes an appearance in this episode. Urquhart has a television interview. Because there are a lot of homeless and jobless people in the UK, Urquhart announces the return of conscription. This is the practice where when youth turn 18 they go into military service. I did an article about a comedy series based around conscription here. Even more interesting is that when we did an article on Yes Prime Minister, Prime Minister Hacker was all set to bring back conscription. That episode guest starred Frederick Treves who played Chief of Defence in The Grand Design. In To Play the King, he played Lord Quillington. A lot of pressure is applied to Urquhart because it is believed that the reason the block of flats exploded was down to how bad things have gotten under Urquhart’s leadership. It is found out that the explosion happened due to someone trying to steal the gas for his flat and botched the job. Urquhart was able to announce this in the interview which helps is election immensely.

The King’s Chief of Staff David Mycroft is having issues of his own. After leaving his wife, he is living the life he always wanted. He is gay and he now has a boyfriend. The press knows about this and is starting to hound him. It is during this tour that Mycroft announces to the Press he is a homosexual and that he is going to resign from being Chief of Staff thus no longer connecting himself with the King. The national tour starts, with very little security for the King, and they go to multiple places. The reason there is so little security is that the King wants to show he can move among his people and does not fear walking around in his country. Urquhart is watching this with great interest. He has a plan. Corder thinks it could be a good idea to blow up the car the King is riding in. They are all very nonchalant about it. Ultimately, Urquhart knows what to do.
When the King goes to another low income area, it is easy for the King to be whisked away by a group that looks like they are going to hold him hostage or even kill him. Then suddenly, out of nowhere troops pour out of everywhere and save the King. Of course all of this was orchestrated by Urquhart including the people who were going to kidnap the King. Publicly it is stated that Urquhart himself made sure troops were around in case anything were to happen to the King. The King looks naïve and Urquhart looks very smart for thinking of the King’s wellbeing even if the King can’t do that himself.

Sometimes, it is necessary to admit when you are wrong. In the case of watching this series, I seem to be wrong with my predictions virtually on every front.  So I stated in last week’s article that I believed that tape recorder that Mattie Storin recorded Urquhart’s confession from House of Cards was in the possession of Corder. I felt that Corder and Elizabeth were holding out with it and were going to use it as insurance if they ever needed to implement Urquhart with anything or try to save themselves from Urquhart. I even thought this was going to become reality when Corder was in Urquhart’s office with Elizabeth just before the gas explosion. He was reaching into his coat pocket. I was pretty excited because I thought I nailed it! I thought I was right all along…

Much to my horror I watched Sarah Harding walking down the street at night and get abducted. It was the same people who roughed her up in Episode Two. Why does she walk those streets at night? Anyway, she is brought to a garage area and is met by non-other than Stamper. The next scene is Stamper and Sarah listening to Mattie’s recording. Stamper had the tape recorder! One of his people got it after Mattie was thrown from the roof and returned it to Stamper. So not only was I wrong about who had the tape recorder but I was also wrong about who ordered to rough Sarah up in Episode Two. I thought it might have been Urquhart himself to get Sarah to feel sorry for him. I was very, very wrong.

The reason Stamper wanted to share the recording with Sarah was because he was worried that if something happened to him that a copy could exist and be turned in. Stamper knew that Sarah was investigating what happened to Mattie especially since Stamper was the one anonymously leading her on.  Stamper also was angered because Urquhart wanted to keep Stamper at the Chief Whip position.  Urquhart had been very disrespectful to Stamper and did very little to help Stamper with the general election. Stamper wanted a higher and cushier job in the government while Urquhart like Stamper where he was because he was so good at bullying people.  It’s kind of odd since that is what set Urquhart down his path of destruction in House of Cards. When Urquhart was Chief Whip he helped Collingridge win that election and was promised great things. Immediately after the election, all of Urquhart’s ideas were cast aside and there was no promotion for Urquhart.

It looks like Urquhart will win the general election. The night before the election Stamper meets with Sarah to let her know that when Urquhart is named Prime Minister again, he will go into the police and hand over the tape. All throughout To Play the King we have seen listening vans eavesdropping on conversations. This was happening right now to Stamper and Sarah.

A call comes through to the Prime Minister’s bedroom in the middle of the night. Elizabeth takes the call. Elizabeth and Urquhart sleep in the same room but in separate beds. Elizabeth sits Urquhart down and explains what is going on. Watching it, it is strange that finally Urquhart knows about Mattie’s recording for the first time but I, myself, have known about it for years. It was a strange moment for me. Elizabeth tells Urquhart that both Stamper and Sarah must be eliminated. I still think there is more to Elizabeth than we see. As Urquhart agrees suddenly I find myself sadly counting the minutes to the death of Stamper (who is a stellar, stellar character) and Sarah. Urquhart doesn’t want to kill either of them but he feels he has no choice. The scary thing is that although Urquhart wants the power, he truly believes he is the only one to bring Great Britain back to its former glory. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to kill. It is for the good of the country.

Urquhart’s government wins the election and his first stop is Buckingham Palace to see the King. This is not a visit for congratulations. The King doesn’t realize it at the moment but the only reason for Urquhart to stop by is to tell the King he must abdicate the throne. The King doesn’t think he has to do so. He even says, “All you want to do is destroy the monarchy” which Urquhart replies, “No sir, It is you I wanted to destroy, not the monarchy.” He then goes on to tell the King why he must abdicate. Not only that but Urquhart verbally destroys the King.  The King is finished and he knows it. The scene is great because Urquhart is able to tell the King exactly what he thinks of him in a calm measurable fashion although this has been building up ever since the King had been crowned. The King tells Urquhart, "Your a Monster, Urquhart!" to which Urquhart replies, "You might very well think that sir but your opinion doesn't count for very much now, does it?"

What about Sarah and Stamper? As Stamper pulls into Scotland Yard to hand over the tape, his car explodes killing him. Sarah was almost smarter. She phoned Chloe, who she met briefly before, and wanted to arrange to meet her so she could give her a copy of the tape for safe keeping. She doesn’t tell Chloe what she wants to hand over. Chloe is going to meet at Sarah’s house and is standing with Sarah’s husband as Sarah drives down the street. Sarah’s car explodes too killing her instantly and the tape copy. Urquhart has the perfect alibi as no one knew there was any trouble with Stamper and Sarah and it simply looks like the IRA targeted two of Urquhart’s closest advisors.
As I mentioned in the previous three articles, I really enjoyed this but I preferred the style of House of Cards. This shows that Urquhart created a very thug and crooked government. In House of Cards, it seemed like he was working on his own and forcing people to help him. In To Play the King, it is obvious that Urquhart is an elected tyrant and uses fear to make people do what he wants. It will be interesting to see how far he goes in The Final Cut.

Sadly, although shot on film this series was edited on video. I was hoping at some point that all three series would be available on Blu Ray. Unfortunately that seems unlikely. The original film elements would need to exist and although that is not impossible, it is highly improbably. All the film would need to be re-transferred in HD and the episodes put back together again. It wasn’t shot on 35mm film; it was shot on 16mm. It would still look great but not as good as 35mm. It seems like this would be a great series to get a re-master of someday.

Does the King abdicate? He certainly does. This wholes series based the Royal family on the real Royal family. The King was very much like Prince Charles and the Lady looked very much like Princess Di even down to hair colour and hair style. They were separated from each other. The Royal couple in the series only had one teenage son. As the end credits roll, this teenage boy is crowned the new King of England. The sad thing is that the King was only trying to make his country better. I knew before I started to watch that this was a battle of wits between the King and Urquhart. What I didn’t realize was the King was actually a very reasonable person. My idea on how this series would unfold was very wrong. The King’s views were naïve but he wasn’t a bad person. Now Urquhart got everything he wanted. The King is out of the way and his teenage son now holds the throne. I doubt it is too much to assume that we now have a King that can be easily molded by Urquhart. It doesn’t appear he will have any interference from the throne. Of course, we will only know that when we someday watch the final story, The Final Cut.

Next week: I am very bored writing about Francis Urquhart for the past four weeks. It is time to go into outer space. How about to the moon? Let’s take a look at the 1973 series Moonbase 3. I will look at episode 3, Achilles Heel. We can see if Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks have the same luck with this as they did with Doctor Who.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

House of Cards: To Play the King Part 3

If you have not seen any of the House of Cards series, please note that these articles are very spoilerific and I will give away plot points. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.

In this third article of four on To Play the King, Francis Urquhart is showing his hand more as a head of a thug government than we have seen before. In the past, when he was trying to attain the office of Prime Minister, he was using other people to do his dirty work. Urquhart was an expert at remaining behind the scenes while he was creating havoc in the government for his own personal gain. Only one person figured it out, Mattie Storin and she paid the highest price for what she found out. There was one other person who Mattie confided in and his time is running out too.
Although still a magnificent series, I can’t but help to be slightly disappointed so far. Where House of Cards succeeded magnificently was Urquhart’s ability to be behind the scenes and manipulate every one. He had a plan though out the series which I, as a viewer, just would watch in amazement as he had 3 or 4 things going on at once that would eventually get him what he wanted.  The methods between the two series haven’t changed but as we see in this week’s episode, the difference is that more and more people start to see Urquhart for exactly who he is and the one who is seeing this the most is the King.
Click here to read about Episode One
Click here to read about Episode Two

Episode Three TX: 12/12/93
The King of England and the Prime Minister Francis Urquhart have been locking horns from the very beginning. The King wants to be more involved with the government but even more so he disagrees with every belief that the Prime Minister holds. Urquhart would not be too bothered by this except that the King is making his beliefs public. The King (as well as the monarchy) cannot be seen to go against the government. Urquhart has already made plans to stop this. Unfortunately, the King is already starting to make his views known. The King has already given a speech that criticizes Urquhart’s government, his assistant Chloe leaked statements from the King that were critical, and the King met with members of both sides of government to start figuring out how to change the current government leadership. The next step for the King is to take it to television.

The King makes a documentary which is an attack on what the United Kingdom has turned into and an attack on the government. The documentary visually is quite nice when the King is on screen as he is standing looking over the beautiful shoreline. When speaking of the current state of the UK and the government, images are shown of poverty and homeless people making a very stark contrast. The music used in the documentary is one of my personal favourite pieces of music. It is Gustav Holst’s Jupiter – Bringer of Jollity from 1918. It is a wonderful piece of music; check it out if you have never heard it.

The response for this documentary from the public is immense. So powerful of a response that Chloe even suggests that the King himself should run for the office of Prime Minister. This is a suggestion that is shouted down by the Prime Minister. Don’t forget, in Episode Two Urquhart had called for a general election. Everyone is waiting for when the actual election is going to take place including the Party Chairman Tim Stamper. There is much for him to do.
Now it gets a little difficult as there is a lot going on in the episode but it is easier to look at the circumstances by character more than by plot. Everything is very separate but it is possible that everything is going to come together very soon.  It’s hard to see the relevance to Sarah Harding. She was brought on as a “special project” for Urquhart by his wife Elizabeth. She has been involved with ideas for how the Prime Minister can use polling to his advantage. She has also helped him re-draft the King’s speech. Yet, as far as I can see, her role in this series is not nearly as important as Mattie Storin’s role was in House of Cards. Mattie was Urquhart’s conduit through the press. He was an anonymous source and he used her to leak information he wanted the public to know. In Episode Two, Sarah got a “history” of Mattie from Urquhart. It was a story that had Mattie jumping to her death because of her love for Urquhart. Sarah and Urquhart become romantically involved with each other and they have an affair. It starts out for Sarah as just physical but she later admits to Urquhart that she loves him. It even confuses Urquhart as he no longer knows whose playing who in this relationship between them.

As much as Sarah says she trusts Urquhart, she does some research on Mattie at the library and looks through some old newspaper articles written by Mattie and also stories on her death. There, Sarah finds an article about Roger O’Neill who was Urquhart’s unwilling henchman in House of Cards. Roger died in that series and Sarah was reading about his death. She also finds out about Mattie’s close friend John Krajewski who was deputy editor at the paper Mattie worked at before she died. John is a very different man than he was in House of Cards. Now, he is generally in hiding. He trusts no one, especially the government. He meets Sarah on the second floor of a double decker bus. This is where he tells her that Mattie and him worked out that Urquhart had to have killed Roger O’Neill and also was responsible for all the uproar going on in the government at that time. He also warned Sarah that anyone who has dealings with Urquhart ends up dead and that he, himself, was scared for his own life as he had ties with Mattie. It would prove very prophetic as he was killed the next day with a bullet through his head. Sarah is shocked as she hears it on the radio the next day while getting ready for work. Yet through all of this, she still sticks with Urquhart, she still believes him even when she tells him that she tracked down and spoke to Krajewski the previous day. Things start to unravel for her as her husband finds out she is having an affair with Urquhart and she starts to get threatening phone calls about Urquhart to her home.

Meanwhile Chief of Staff for the King David Mycroft is having troubles of his own. Mycroft had a pretty bad marriage. It sounds like through conversations between himself and the King that Mycroft’s wife put him through hell. It doesn’t help that he had been living a lie. He is gay and now that his marriage is over, he is able to live the life he wants. He has met someone who he really likes.  The problem is that his first night “out” at a gay club he is recognized instantly. I did not pick this up in Episode Two but it is made clear in this episode that he is recognized by John Staines who is in the House of Commons and would know who Mycroft is. This make Mycroft uneasy but it gets worse as Staines is arrested for being in the company of young boys. Mycroft remembers that Staines was with a young boy at the club Staines recognized him at and fears that as the investigation continues, Mycroft’s name might be somehow revealed.
When the King was having his conversation with Mycroft, Urquhart had people listening in on their conversation. This wasn’t the only location where people were listening. He had a van out at the castle that Princess Charlotte lives. She has been having an affair with Sir Bruce Bullerby but that isn’t the only thing Bruce is doing there. One thing I did not pick up from the previous two episodes is that Sir Bruce is the owner/editor of one of the newspapers that is supposed to be supporting Urquhart’s government. The paper hasn’t been doing that and in fact their stance has been more pro King than anything else. Urquhart has been spying and he calls in Sir Bruce to his office. With Stamper sitting by his side, Urquhart hands picture after picture of Sir Bruce in compromising positions with Princess Charlotte. Now, the one thing I did pick up about Sir Bruce from the very beginning is that he is not very smart. Prior to the pictures being shown, he gloats that he has been writing down Princess Charlotte’s memoirs which were not to be published until after her death. He mentions that he got a lot of juicy tidbits about the whole Royal family. Urquhart simply orders Sir Bruce to publish the memoirs or the pictures get released.

Princess Charlotte is devastated by Sir Bruce’s breach in her confidences. Meanwhile Urquhart is face to face with the King at the garden of Buckingham Palace. The speaking is very plain and very direct. Urquhart lays out the ultimatum. More information and pictures will be published if the King does not stand down. The King’s response is simply “Do you worse.” He will not stand down. This sets up the final episode for a war between the government and the monarchy.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Urquhart is not the puppet master he was during House of Cards. Now he is point blankly threatening the King. It is a pure power struggle and yet I am disappointed that we don’t get the version of Urquhart who is behind the scenes and is apparently innocent of everything. More and more people are becoming aware of what Urquhart really is. His closest advisor, Stamper, is creating plans that could disrupt Urquhart political future. Is Sarah getting closer to realizing how dangerous Urquhart is? The only one who seems loyal is his wife Elizabeth.

As I mentioned since I started these articles, this is my first time viewing To Play the King. This is all new to me. There has been one constant so far in these episodes and that is his loyal wife Elizabeth. One might even say she orchestrated everything we have seen so far. She was the one to give Urquhart the idea to go after his enemies and go for the Prime Minister’s office.  She turned a blind eye or even collaborated on the underhanded things Urquhart has done up to this point. She has been OK with his affairs and even suggested he should have one with Mattie. She has been OK with the murders of Roger O’Neill and Mattie and nothing seems to faze her. She disappears when Urquhart needs to be alone with Sarah or Mattie. Elizabeth often goes out to the country. This week she mentioned she was going to bring Corder with her and I think that is the link.

Elizabeth and Corder are having an affair. This is not a big deal in a sense because it is clear that Urquhart knows about it and is OK with it. They seem to have some kind of open marriage. Remember my obsession with Mattie’s tape recorder? Last week I mentioned I believe that Corder is the one with the tape recorder. I think Corder and Elizabeth are in partnership holding on to the recorder for insurance. I could be wrong but I don’t think there plan is to release Urquhart’s taped confession any time soon but hold onto to it until it will bring them the most power. Whether we find out more about this in Episode Four or in The Final Cut is not known yet.
Next Week: The final episode of To Play the King. It looks like Urquhart and the King are ready for the battle of wits. Is Urquhart really prepared to take down the whole Monarchy?
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

House of Cards: To Play the King Part 2

If you have not seen any of the House of Cards series, please note that these articles are very spoilerific and I will give away plot points. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.
In the first series, House of Cards, Francis Urquhart was slicing and dicing up the government as he seen fit with no resistance. No one knew he was doing it. He was Chief Whip and was able to work from behind the scenes to get what he wanted done. He used people through blackmail and eventually became a murderer. Yet with all of this, only two people knew the entire truth. His wife and Mattie Storin.  Mattie was killed by Urquhart at the end of House of Cards yet one huge piece of evidence existed and that was the tape recorder Mattie kept on her at all times.  Even on that fateful afternoon when she confronted Francis Urquhart on the garden rooftop of the House of Commons she had the tape rolling. There he admitted to what had been going on but there is also threw her off the roof to her death. The tape recorder survived and now is with someone……..waiting to divulge its existence.
Click here to read about Episode One

Episode Two 28/11/93

This episode starts off with the Prime Minister getting ready for a party or something else. He is putting on his suit and he starts having more flashbacks to Mattie’s death. Her free-falling through the air and landing on a car below, crushing the car roof with her body. His terror is interrupted by his wife Elizabeth. She asks if he is ready and they go to the reception. It’s not a party per se although there are a lot of people in attendance. These are the people of Urquhart’s government, Urquhart supporters, and Sarah Harding. Remember Sarah? She was sought out by Elizabeth because she thought Francis needed a challenge. Sarah is very intelligent and will be a great asset to Urquhart’s team of advisors and she is also extremely attractive.  

Urquhart’s announcement is simply that is he going to hold a general election. Though how the idea was presented by him to his guests was that His Majesty the King is talking out of turn about the government and it was too much for Urquhart who was prepared to resign over it but instead decided the best course of action is to have a general election. What makes this irresistible to Francis is that he has an unfair advantage over any opponent. It is very unlikely he could lose. He starts bringing in people closest to him to start discussing the roles they will play. One person who is kept waiting is Sarah Harding. Finally after Urquhart has met with everyone, he seeks out Sarah. He visits her in her room at Chequers. She is furious that she was given short notice to attend this announcement and then she is kept waiting for hours to speak with him. In the room, she is given the full scope of the ambition of Francis Urquhart. He is willing to destroy the King or have him abdicate the throne if he does not fall in line. Even though it looks like Sarah takes it at face value, it is clear that Francis is more malevolent about what he wants to do.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Francis Urquhart is a villain. Just like in House of Cards, Francis will speak directly to us, the viewer, and some of the stuff he says is humourous and insightful. Then we see what Urquhart is capable of doing. One minute he might be giving us background on the way something in government works but the next he says something like he is angry at the King and wants to harm him. Upon hearing from Elizabeth that Tim Stamper may see himself as the successor to Francis Urquhart as Prime Minister, Urquhart remarks, “You know, I can’t see anyone succeeding me.” Even with it being fictional, it is actually kind of scary as someone sees themselves as the absolute ruler and they think they have absolute power. At Buckingham Palace, the feeling is much different.

The King has put together a dinner party with key members of both political parties in attendance. The King’s goal, so he says, is to get better political debate going again. There is more to it, as the King is eager to get support to get Urquhart to listen to him about his grievances or force Urquhart to resign. The dinner gets interrupted very quickly.

Two car bombs go off very near to the palace. Multiple people are killed or injured. Perhaps it was the IRA that blew up those bombs; unfortunately the source of the bomb may have been closer to home. It is not directly said and I don’t think I am incorrectly reading into anything but it really appears those car bombs were the device of Urquhart’s own government. When the bombs go off, Urquhart hardly flinches while everyone else is in disarray. Well, there is one other person who is pretty calm about everything and his name is Corder. For a lack of a better term, Corder is Urquhart’s henchman. In fact, in Urquhart’s government punishment is swift. There is no real concern to see who is responsible for the bombing, Corder mentions to Urquhart a suitable political terrorist organization that would be responsible for such a bombing and the order is go after them.  The police do go after this group. There are 3 of them and they are found in a supermarket parking lot and shot down while trying to run from the police. Problem solved. It is after this we get a scene in the Prime Minister’s question time when someone asks Urquhart about the incident where he says his most famous quote for the first time in this series, “You might think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

It’s hard to trust anyone in this series and as I have not seen this before nor have I seen the final two parts of this series yet, it’s hard to know if what I am watching is linear or I am watching what the director wants me to see which may not be quite as linear. For example, Mattie Storin plays heavily into everything but in whose favour? Last week, I thought it was Penny Guy who had Mattie’s tape recorder. That was a silly thought and it is clear to see why it wasn’t her. This week, we start to get a better perspective. Tim Stamper has been very loyal to Francis Urquhart. He was extremely loyal in House of Cards and has been very loyal so far yet he is unhappy with how he is getting treated. For the upcoming general election, Stamper has been asked to be party chairman and run Urquhart’s campaign. In this series he has been nothing but a heavy for Urquhart. Last week, he arranged a strange agreement with Princess Charlotte so she can be “friendly” with Sir Bruce Bullerby whom she can’t stand. This week, Stamper is blackmailing Gropeham to make sure his paper is supporting Urquhart and not the King. If Gropeham doesn’t do this, information will come out about his indecent exposure charge from 15 years earlier. Stamper is tired of being thought of only being good for blackmailing other people. Finally, after being loyal to Urquhart, it appears that Urquhart is letting Sarah closer into his confidence than Stamper. So it is obvious to assume that we can start associating the following incidents to Stamper.

After Stamper is brushed aside on one occasion by Urquhart, we see Stamper thinking about something very important and we cut to a scene inside a vault. Inside we cut to the same safe deposit box we saw last week and a gloved hand retrieving the most-important tape recorder. The man is in the car carefully stroking it with his figure as it is a very prized possession. Later in the episode something more disturbing happens. Stamper has a bad telephone conversation with Urquhart. Once again, Urquhart is brushing Stamper aside, not answering his questions about when the general election is going to take place and also is being very secretive about everything else going on. Once Stamper gets off the phone with Urquhart, he thinks for a moment, he then picks up the phone again to make another telephone call.  We cut to Sarah walking down a street and is accosted by a group of people. They take her purse and look through it but not for money. They make sure they that this is Sarah Harding. Once they realize it, one of the gang, a woman says to Sarah, “Ask him about Mattie Storin.” Of course, they mean ask the Prime Minister. They then rough her up a little and run off. Clearly both acts are orchestrated by Tim Stamper, right? Wrong.

Like I mentioned before, I have not seen the other episodes so everything I am saying is a guess. I think I am being duped. Things we are being presented here are not exactly as they seem and this is my theory. I do not believe it is Stamper who has the tape recorder. The order of events are as follows: Stamper is annoyed and Urquhart tells Sarah that he needs to see her immediately. Someone goes into the safe deposit box, gets the tape recorder. We see this person in the car looking at the recorder and drives off. I believe this person is driving off to get Sarah and bring her to Urquhart. This person is Corder. I believe Corder is the one with the tape recorder. Is he acting alone? That I do not know. Now as for the other point, I will get to that in a second.

This episode is much more of a set up for things to come. There are a lot of individual elements that are contributing to this episode but as of yet are not that related. There are a lot of pieces that have just started and need to be addressed and I wonder how they will play out for the rest of the story.  Obviously the King is going to wage some kind of battle over Urquhart. It is unclear yet what that is. The Chief of Staff for Buckingham Palace David Mycroft has a new life. After years of being married it looks like he is being honest with himself and found a boyfriend. The problem is that in such a high ranking role for the crown plus the close friendship he shares with the King could be a problem for him and the crown.  Princess Charlotte is doing well on her arrangement of allowing Sir Bruce Bullerby into her life. After a day of fox hunting she invites him up to her room and helps her take a bath. Bullerby is a fumbling fool and it is clear that the Princess can’t stand him but she is doing what she has been told to do. Unfortunately for her, she is being eavesdropped on from outside of their castle. Compliment of the Prime Minister Francis Urquhart.  If that’s not enough we even get a scene with a prostitute played by Emma Bunton also known as Baby Spice from the Spice Girls. It’s a shame she had to lower herself to play that role….of course I mean the role of Baby Spice!
As for Sarah being attacked in the street and told to ask Urquhart about Mattie, I think this is really interesting. Once again we see Stamper, who is frustrated with Urquhart, pick up the phone to possibly arrange something. We cut to the scene where Sarah is attacked. I do not believe Stamper is responsible for this either. The next scene is Sarah explaining what just happened to her to Urquhart. He doesn’t seem very concerned that someone would tell her to ask about Mattie. In fact, he is quite open to letting her know the truth. Except his recollection of events is much further from the truth. In his story, Mattie is overly emotional over their affair breaking up. In his version, she follows him to the House of Commons roof garden and jumps off forcing him to see it.

Bringing Sarah into his confidence works for him, Sarah has pity for him and wants to have an affair with him. The look he gives the camera after she seduces him and leaves the room is priceless. Was all of this arranged by Urquhart himself? There is so much more that is left to be resolved, luckily there are still two episodes left to go.

Next week: The third installment of To Play the King.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

House of Cards: To Play the King Part 1

If you have not seen any of the House of Cards series, please note that these articles are very spoilerific and I will give away plot points. If you do not want to be spoiled please do not read further or read at your own risk.
I have been waiting to watch this series for years. I didn’t really have an opinion about any of the House of Cards series in my life because I didn’t really care. I thought it would be stuffy and boring. Please see my Yes, Prime Minister Article for further proof about how wrong someone can be about such things.  Sadly in 2007 Ian Richardson surprisingly passed away. I remember it being something of a shock. Now, I had this set of the House of Cards trilogy. Like other things in my collection, it sat around without being watched. After Mr. Richardson’s untimely passing, I decided that I would watch the first series of 4 episodes and see how it goes. I was simply blown away by how good it was. There is a light hearted approach to it (at least at the beginning) that surprised me. Francis Urquhart is speaking directly to the camera and some of what he says is interesting and funny. What he does is very curious and the whole series just sucked me in.

I planned on watching one episode a week for four weeks. I watched it all in one night then went back and watched it again over four weeks. You will have to excuse my viewing habits. I am not someone who generally will watch something episodically in one evening. I tend to like to break something up. If it is something I really like, that means it is something I can look forward to enjoying and stretch it out. I know it is strange and that is because I am strange. If you have a large DVD collection, why not watch it now? Oh well.

Anyway, after I watched House of Cards I wanted to immediately move on to the second series To Play the King. Then I decided that I would wait until it was randomly picked from “the envelope”. That was literally 5 years ago. So much has changed in five years. One thing is that I write a blog about the TV series I watch. I started this blog with very little content towards the end of 2007. This is why there is no article on this first series. With most things that I watch and write about, I have seen it before or have a general idea of what is going to happen. To clarify this for example, I don’t know every episode of Last of the Summer Wine but I can pretty much figure out what is going to happen or at the very least spoiling it is not a huge issue. With To Play the King, I don’t know anything that is going to happen. In fact, each of these articles for this series will be written without knowing anything about this series because I do not want to be spoiled. I like to try and do some research on the series I write about but not this time. For the next few weeks, all you will get from me are my reactions to these episodes. Hope this is alright and still relatively interesting.

Episode One TX: 21/11/93

The opening credits sets the stage as well as what the series is about. We see the new King crowned. Francis Urquhart is Prime Minister of the UK. In House of Cards, Urquhart had been looked over for a high government position by then new Prime Minister Collingridge. It set the Chief Whip in motion to have his revenge. It ended with the Prime Minister resigning and a few people shamed out of trying for the office. Worse, two people are murdered by Urquhart, including his lover Mattie Storin.
I wasn’t sure how this would be addressed but what I found very interesting was Urquhart reflecting and playing in his mind over and over Mattie, his lover and a reporter, falling to her death from the roof garden of the House of Commons. This was how House of Cards ended. She was pushed off a roof by Urquhart when she realized that it was him that was directly responsible for all the awful things that had been going on in government over the past few months. People’s lives had been ruined and it was Urquhart’s fault. What is even more interesting is that Mattie recorded everything on her tape recorder, including her conversations with Urquhart. Even her final conversation where he admitted to everything was recorded before he lifted her over the railing  dropping her to her death. We see at the end of House of Cards that that her tape recorder was still in her hands when she landed and someone picked it up. We see a little more of it in this episode as we see that footage of someone picking up the recorder but now we see them collect it into a bank box and lock it away. I wonder if this is where RTD got the idea at the end of The Last of the Timelords and the beginning of The End of Time where there is a hand that picks up the Master’s ring causing us fans to speculate endlessly on who the hand belonged to that picked the ring up. Back to the show I am watching, now I just have to wait to see who this hand belongs to. I have not seen the anymore beyond episode one which includes the third installment, The Final Cut, but I think it is Penny Guy from the original series. After re-reading this article before posting, I have seen re-watched Episode One and can categorically state it is not Penny Guy. If you know, don’t tell me! Don’t you dare!

One striking image we see from the beginning of the episode as the new King is being led through the streets in a celebratory procession is that there are a lot of homeless people. London seems to be rampant with it. Although Urquhart is doing a respectable job, there are a lot of issues that can be directly attributed to his leadership. Although 46% of the people approve of Urquhart’s leadership there are unprecedented homeless and broke people shown throughout the episode.
The new King wants to be more involved with what is going on in his country. When Urquhart and the King meet for the first time, it is a pleasantly strained conversation. They are both trying to be polite as they try to figure each other out. It is clear that they have some differences. The King comments that his mother, the Queen, would say of Urquhart that she would tell him what she would like to see happen and he would go away and do something entirely different.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Urquhart realizes that her husband is becoming a bit sluggish; everything has been too easy for him since taking over leading the country. She wants to give him something or someone to work on. This person is Sarah Harding. She is an expert with opinion polls and Urquhart wants to “plunder her brain” for his own achievements. In a very interesting moment when Urquhart and Harding meet, she is compelled to let the Prime Minister know that she is happily married to her husband. Urquhart never says anything that would contradict that yet he basically told her that if she were to work for him, she would need to do anything he would ask without question. Here it starts mirroring the relationship Urquhart had with Mattie in House of Cards. He was able to train and “mentor” Mattie by giving her some inside information and letting her figure out what is going on…..well, she came to the conclusion Urquhart wanted her to come to for his benefit. The same could be said of Sarah. After she is employed, she is brought over to the Prime Minister’s residence to look at the King’s speech. It is in direct opposition to Urquhart’s government. Urquhart had asked the King to give him the speech to check the facts. Now, he wants Sarah to rewrite it and take out all of the interesting bits that go against his government. Throughout the scene, the Prime Minister is schooling Sarah on what’s “really” going on with the King which was very familiar with his approach to Mattie when he was trying to become Prime Minister. Even after Sarah finishes re-writing the speech and leaves, Urquhart has a flashback to Mattie’s death as he threw her over a railing on the roof of a garden terrace and she falls to her death.

So when does this series take place and who are these people in connection to real life events? The people in our world are real in this series. This takes place in our reality. In the House of Cards, when Prime Minister Collingridge took over the government, he replaced Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher is referenced multiple times throughout both series. More interesting to me is the royal family.
Once again in the House of Cards, the monarchy is ruled by the Queen and by all intents and purposes it is Queen Elizabeth II. We even get some glimpse of pictures of her on various walls in different buildings. At the end of House of Cards, Urquhart as the new Prime Minister is about to meet her. Now at the start of To Play the King, the King has no name (at least none that I am aware of yet). He has been crowned as King and the Queen is spoken of in past tense. It is clear that the King is the son of the Queen. It is not mentioned if the Queen had died yet there is no mention of her at all but there is no mention of her dead either.

To the people who have seen this series before, I apologize for my assumptions and naivety on many plot points.  I have not seen this series all the way through so things that don’t make sense to me are just me guessing and by the time I finish Episode Four, I will be the wiser. If the monarchy in this series is the current monarchy, it is clear that the King would be based on Prince Charles. At the beginning of the episode when the King is being crowned the shot pans to a woman and young boy on a balcony looking on. The King is divorced and his ex-wife looks pretty similar to Princess Di.  There is also more to the King than we are aware of at the moment. I am sure this will become clearer as the series continues. As an interesting note, most scenes with the King end with him walking out through a door into a separate private room. I am not saying it means anything but I found it funny. There is also a mention that the King has been known to send out for prostitutes in the past. This caused an uproar when the episode aired.
There is more that I have not mentioned yet such as Urquhart using Tim Stamper to obtain “Regal Insurance’ from Princess Charlotte. She is someone who had married someone in the Royal family and had since divorced them. She mentions that she was warned by someone within the Royal Family that there would be an “accident” if she said too much. This is very ghoulish considering what eventually really happen with Princess Di and how some of the public believe there were people tied in with the Royal Family had something to do with that tragic death. With much of the stuff I have not mentioned yet, I feel I should wait until I understand a little more what is happening with those strands.

This is very strong start to the series. While watching it, I would find myself saying this is f*****g fantastic! The lines, the shots, the music combine to make a flawless execution of this series. It is interesting to note that a few weeks ago I was praising the music in Mapp & Lucia. House of Cards/To Play the King also has a very strong theme which is prevalent throughout all the episodes and is beautifully classical. The music is by Tim Parker who also did the music on Mapp & Lucia.

What I do know as we leave Episode One is that the Prime Minister and the King disagree on a lot of things. The King wants to take a larger role in the running of the government in which Urquhart will not allow. His wife is even less sympathetic to the King as she tells Urquhart uplon hearing how difficult the King is, "Break him Francis, Bring him down".
Next week: Episode Two of To Play the King and we see what Prime Minister Francis Urquhart does in response to the King publicly attacking the government.
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