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Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart

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

British TV show and book about Machiavellian politician Francis Urquhart (played by Ian Richardson), who aims to become prime minister by any means necessary. Based in part on Macbeth and in part on Richard III, this BBC series became very popular when during the original run of the first series, which depicts Urquhart's conspiracy to become Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher resigns, she actually did.

Netflix has announced an American-set TV series based on the novel that will signal their first foray into original programming, to air in 2013. The series will follow House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who sets out to bring down the President of the United States after not being appointed Secretary of State. The series will be written by Beau Williamson, and Spacey and David Fincher will produce, with Fincher also directing the first two episodes (at least).

This show provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The TV series focuses much more on Urquhart, and is far better for it.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Tim Stamper.
  • Animal Motifs: The TV series sometimes cuts to shots of rats.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Urquhart often talks to the audience, both as exposition and telling us his own thoughts - actually works better than one should expect.
  • Canon Dis Continuity: Several levels:
    • At the end of the first book, Urquhart commits suicide when a reporter makes him reveal his crime in an Engineered Public Confession - in the TV series, he throws said reporter over the roof and goes on to become prime minister. In the second book, Urquhart gets caught in a political tight spot when the king and a few of his former allies turn the tables on him, hinting that he will lose the election. In the TV series, however, he discredits the king and is well on to winning when his second in command and pollster attempt to release the tape which would link him to the murder of Mattie Storin and Roger O'Neill. (They don't succeed.)
  • Catch Phrase: "You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Urquhart's manner, on occasion.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Normally averted, but in The Final Cut, when Makepeace resigns the Conservative whip, he would be ineligible to stand for the Conservative leadership. Probably justified by the Rule of Drama; series author Michael Dobbs was actively involved in politics (among other positions, he had been a speechwriter and special advisor for Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s and served as Deputy-Chairman of the Conservative Party under John Major) and certainly knew his stuff.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Done to a tape recorder, which becomes a plot point in the second and third series.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Urquhart describes Patrick Woolton as, "A lout, a lecher, a racist, an anti-semite and a bully."
  • Evil Chancellor: As Chief Whip, Urquhart has spent enough time as The Man Behind the Man to have worked himself into a position of influence over new Prime Minister Collingridge and most of his colleagues.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Urquhart, in House of Cards. He wins people over by being calm, decisive, charming, and someone they know they can rely on in a pinch, all the while calculating how best to stab them in the back. As the series goes on, however, his cold, snake-like qualities become more apparent to those around him, and this trope becomes less applicable. A large part of To Play the King revolves around his cold, aloof image compared to the King's heart and humanity.
  • For the Evulz: Urquhart takes delight in making people very angry, and whilst considering his retirement, remarks that "there's time for plenty more fun yet!"
  • Gayngst: David Mycroft
  • Ghost Town: Most of the focus of the TV series is on Urquhart as a character, so we don't really see much of the impact his policies have on Britain. However, To Play The King suggests that this trope is a growing problem, while The Final Cut reveals that he has abolished the Arts Council.
  • Heroic Sociopath
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Often in the television series, Urquhart will predict what someone will do or say... and since he's a magnificent bastard, he's usually right. Sometimes the ironic echo is accompanied by Urquhart raising a knowing eyebrow to the camera.
  • Karma Houdini: Even though he is assassinated at the end of the series, Urquhart never really gets punished for the murders of Roger O'Neill and Mattie Storin - the tape recording that Tom Makepeace planned to use against him becomes useless with his death. Even moreso in the final book, in which Urquhart organises his own assassination so he can salvage his reputation by heroically saving his wife, and manages to set up the destruction of Tom Makepeace's political career in the process.
  • Kavorka Man: All the adulterous politicians, presumably due to Power Is Sexy.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Urquhart tries this after a dispute over Europe arises between himself and Makepeace. In this case he tries to shift him from the Foreign Office to the position of Secretary of State for Education, which is really an important-looking office with relatively limited clout in the cabinet.
  • MacGuffin: The tape recording of Urquhart's confession.
  • The Man Behind the Man: While she does not get much screen time until the last series, one could very well argue that Elisabeth Urquhart is even nastier than her husband. She is the one who pushes him to topple the current prime Minister (from his own party) and in the third series, it is strongly implied that she had Urquhart assassinated in order to protect herself (although she did seem motivated by her desire to salvage his reputation posthumously after Tom Makepeace threatened to publish the tape implicating Urquhart in the murder of Mattie Storin).
    • There seems to be quite a bit of this around. Patrick Woolton's wife also seems to be quite a bit tougher than expected.
  • Meaningful Echo: Urquhart is galvanised to depose Collingridge when the PM passes him over for a higher post in the cabinet, explaining, "I need a good Chief Whip more than I need a new Home Secretary." In the second series, Urquhart's own chief whip and sidekick, Tim Stamper, decides to betray him: "But you promised me the Home Office!"
  • Next Sunday AD: the story is set at an unspecified but close future date when Margaret Thatcher has resigned - even closer than the writer thought, as it turned out, as she resigned during the run of the first series.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The King in the second serial is based on Prince Charles.
  • No Party Given: Never officially mentioned in the books, though in the series Urquhart is stated to belong to the Conservative Party.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Geoffrey Booza-Pitt, who has a reputation as a harmless, somewhat buffoonish character, but is suggested to be much cleverer than he looks. In the TV series he is undone by Urquhart's manipulations, but in the books his reputation lets him hang on in the succeeding ministry.
    • Also Elizabeth Urquhart - when talking to the chairman of the Cyprus border arbitration panel she pretends to be dim so she can accidentally-on-purpose let slip some very sensitive information.
  • Prime Ministers Question Time
  • Psycho for Hire: Commander Corder, Urquhart's intensely loyal bodyguard, does not think of his victims as human beings, and is willing to kill anyone who threatens the PM and his reputation, including Urquhart himself.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The King in To Play The King clearly wants to be this. Unfortunately, it quickly puts him at odds with Urquhart. Although Urquhart is, of course, opposing the King for his own venal interests, the story does point out that there's a very good reason why, in the British constitutional monarchy system, Royals Who Actually Do Something In Terms Of Taking Political Sides is not a good thing. In the novel, the King abdicates on his own discretion and announces that he will stand for parliament and oppose Urquhart as a democratically elected MP. However, thanks to retcons between books, this isn't mentioned in the final part of the trilogy.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The B-plot in The Final Cut involves an aging Cypriot named Evangelos Passolides trying to get into a position to assassinate Urquhart and avenge his brothers, who were executed illegally by Urquhart during his time as an army officer stationed in Cyprus. In the final scene of the series, he steps out of a crowd to take his shot at the PM just as Urquhart is assassinated by a completely unrelated gunman. Also counts as Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
  • Significant Monogram: Francis Urquhart.
  • Strawman Political: Mostly averted in the TV series. Every character who expresses strong views is always allowed to justify them, and any such character portrayed negatively (such as Patrick Woolton) is simply shown as a generally unpleasant individual in spite of their beliefs. Michael Dobbs was a Conservative, though, which might cancel out any motivation to show the Conservatives in an unfavourable light, as they have often been portrayed by other writers.
  • Thanatos Gambit:
    • In the novel, Urquhart arranges his own death so he can appear to die heroically shielding his wife from an assassin's bullet while organising events to strike at Makepeace from beyond the grave and destroy his political career, ensuring his legacy in the process.
    • In the series, Elizabeth Urquhart organises Urquhart's death with Corder's help in order to save his reputation, which had been torn to shreds by a botched military operation in Cyprus resulting in the deaths of several children.
  • Upperclass Twit: Geoffrey Booza-Pitt, a minor cabinet minister and staunch Urquhart loyalist who is promoted to Foreign Secretary to humiliate the outgoing office-holder (Urquhart's rival) Tom Makepeace.
  • Villain Protagonist With Good Publicity: Urquhart - he becomes prime minister after all, and remains so longer than Margaret Thatcher.
    • One day longer.
  • Whitehall
  • Your Cheating Heart: Subverted. Elizabeth Urquhart encourages her husband to enter affairs with other women if it is politically advantageous to do so. The Final Cut suggests that she is having an affair with Corder with Urquhart's knowledge.
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