I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
When you’ve taken on the Prime Minister of a country and manage to move yourself in position, what possible obstacle could you have to face after that? That is the issue that was facing the people behind the original, British version of the hit Netflix show House of Cards. This series was actually called “To Playthea King” which should give you some indication of where this series is going.
Having become Prime Minister, time moves forward a couple of years and to the coronation of a new King. Francis Urquhart now has to take on the established Monarchy, an institution that had been around for almost a thousand years. How do you fight that? Luckily with the same amount of backstabbing, manipulation and double-crossing that got him the job of leader of the country in the first place.
In fact, this is probably the biggest issue with the second season of BBC’s House of Cards, it all feels slightly too familiar. Francis Urquhart has met a very formidable opponent and must do his best to play a public opinion game of chess to try to outwit the King of England. This ups the stakes but with elements we have seen in the first season. We get Urquhart setting people up to use later in the season, a poor, innocent fall-guy finds his life unravel around him and the most obvious link of all, a new woman to fall for the alluring charms of the aging leader.
They don’t try to hide the connection, if anything they go a little too far to try to highlight the similarities between the first season’s Mattie Storrin and the newest object of Urquhart’s affection, Sarah Harding, played by Kitty Aldridge. She pretty much plays the exact same role, falling for the villain, helping his schemes and then slowly uncovering his shady past and darker side. Unlike the first season, we know what is to happen to anyone in that position, particularly because the season continues to remind you.
The differences come in the people playing the key parts in this story. Michael Kitchen is great as The King. He plays the morally justified, liberal monarch well and is a perfect counterpart for Ian Richardson’s Urquhart. It is only down to how well Richardson play’s Urquhart that you don’t side with the Monarch and start rooting for our anti-hero’s downfall.
To support the King is the excellent Nicholas Farrell as David Mycroft. He gets a story which seems to be heading for a big conclusion but bubbles along nicely to nothing. It serves more to highlight the views in Britain in the 90s rather than serve the bigger story.
This season’s big turn is Colin Jeavons returning as Urquhart’s right-hand man Stamper. We get much more from the muscle that was a bit-part player in the first season. Stamper is thrown right into the mix and it makes for probably the best story of the short, four episode season. It comes to a very predictable conclusion but is still compelling to it’s end.
The show still belongs to Francis Urquhart though and Ian Richardson hasn’t lost any of his bite and smile. His monologues to camera are still great to watch and add to this his struggle to maintain power this season and we get a much more vulnerable Prime Minister. At times this weakness seems to undermine the character, particularly with constant referrals back to previous events and actions from last season.
It is still a very good season and the fact that Urquhart is taking on The King increases the stakes without it becoming silly. The biggest strength of the series has always been that you could believe this kind of trickery, double-crossing and back-stabbing actually goes on in the corridors of power and we just witness what manages to leak it’s way out (or is allowed to).
Overall, House of Cards’ second season manages to maintain most of the momentum from the excellent first season but mainly by changing very little. Characters seem to come in to replace others that have departed and the same basic story remains. The fact that this is Urquhart versus The King does add an element of tension and excitement but you are never in any doubt of how the situation will end up.
Best Episode – Episode 4: The culmination of all of Urquhart’s hard work, with some predictable conclusions but no less compelling viewing.
Best performance – Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart
Should there have been another season? – I’m not sure where else it could go. Yes, but only if we see the downfall of Urquhart.
Season Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)