The ONE Thing BBC's House Of Cards Has Over Netflix's Version

houseofcards_bigPhoto: Courtesy BBC.
The still-unwinding Netflix version of House of Cards — which returns for a second season next week — is a spectacular and sinister viewing pleasure. There is, though, one thing that makes its low-def, instantly available 1990 BBC predecessor even more delicious and wicked: Ian Richardson's performance as Frances Urquhart.
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There is an exquisite malevolence of Richardson' British analog to Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood in the American production. Granted, Richardson's quietly vicious Conservative MP is far more of a pantomime than Spacey's character — a sort-of classical, pure-evil baddie, closer to a Simon Legree-type, Dickens' foil, or Satan himself. But, it's a brilliant pantomime.
Like Underwood, Urquhart begins House of Cards indignant and slighted by the those around him. He is not, however, compensating for some nagging, just-below-the-surface inferiority complex. He's the Devil taking his due and loving it. In constant asides to the audience, he luxuriates in his own evil the way a Persian cat might stretch on a square of sun-warmed floor. I really can't describe how wonderful it can be.
Now, be forewarned, the BBC's House of Cards lacks a few things the American production has — high, modern production values, a more global look at an entire cast of well-rounded characters, and Corey Stoll's career-making performance as Congressman Peter Russo (R.I.P.). But, in exchange, we have a script that is decidedly more perverse in its use of sex and power (you'll see what I mean), lighter, and a bit more fun. And, of course, we have Richardson's Urquhart, a posh, genteel portrait of Eton-educated malice. He makes Darth Vader look positively boorish.
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