How Similar Are The British & American Versions Of House Of Cards?

Courtesy of Netflix
When it first premiered on Netflix, House of Cards was lauded for its dark portrayal of American politics. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has been our sinister tour guide through the labyrinthine relationships of Washington, D.C. Five seasons later, the series has lost some of its sensationalism: At times, the show pales in comparison to the news.
Though Netflix’s House of Cards bears striking similarity to current events, the story’s been around for quite some time. Like many of America’s most popular TV shows, from The Office to Shameless, the initial version of House of Cards hails from the U.K.
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Airing on the BBC in 1990, the British House of Cards is a miniseries based on a novel by a former political insider, Michael Dobbs. From Dobbs' first-hand knowledge came one of the most singular political minds in TV history: chief whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson). The only character more chilling than Francis Urquhart is our American friend, Frank Underwood.
As you'll see, the American House of Cards drew heavily from its British counterpart. Here's what the shows have in common.
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The Premise

Both the American and British House of Cards begin with the same inciting incident: The main character is passed over for a big promotion, and decides to seek revenge.

The British version starts just after PM Margaret Thatcher is ousted and Henry Collingridge takes over for the position, thanks to party whip Francis Urquhart's intervention. Urquhart meets with Collingridge, expecting a shiny new cabinet position. He's dismayed to find that Collingridge wants to keep him in the whip office, where his sinister ministrations will be used to aid Collingridge. From there on out, Urquhart is set on destroying Collingridge and becoming PM.

The British series ends with Urquhart in a limousine to meet the queen, having successfully attained the position of PM.

In the American version, Frank Underwood is the House Majority Whip. When Franks finds out the newly elected president, Garrett Walker, isn't promoting him to Secretary of State, Underwood decides to take Walker down. Boy, is he successful.
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The Catchphrase

Frank Underwood is known for his colorful language and Southern twang. One of his most famous lines, however, is a direct quote from Francis Urquhart.

Both Francises deflect reporters' questions with the evasive line, "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."
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The Catchphrase, American Style

Here's Frank Underwood trying out Francis Urquhart's signature line for himself while speaking to reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).
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The Wife

In the American show, Frank and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), are cut from the same ruthless, cruel mold. But however devious the pair is to the outside world, they deeply respect one another.

In the British version, Francis and his wife, Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), don't have the Macbeth/Lady Macbeth dynamic. At one point, Elizabeth says Francis' political action made him look weak. Sitting coolly in a chair, Francis condescendingly tells Elizabeth, "You have a lot to learn."

While Francis and Elizabeth aren't partners in crime, Francis still conjures up twisted declarations of devotion to her. "I'll hurt him for you before this game is over," he tells his wife. "And that's a promise."
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The Opening Theme

Here's one major difference between the British and American versions. The British opening sequence features music straight out of a John D. Souza march. The BBC's jaunty trumpet doesn't quite match the show's political mood as well as the American theme sets the tone for the Netflix series.
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The Protagonist's Perspective

Both Frank and Francis turn their sinister gaze directly to the viewer, and frequently break the fourth wall. Frank is far more outwardly charming than his British counterpart, though, who's lonely, bitter, and full of sneers.
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The Reporter

As in the American version, Francis Urquhart begins a sexual relationship with a bright young journalist. In both shows, Frank and Francis kill the reporter when she discovers too much.

But the British version has another twist. Francis Urquhart appears to be significantly older than the virile, athletic Frank Underwood. Consequently, his relationship with Mattie (Susannah Harker) has a paternal, as well as sexual, element. When Mattie and Francis begin their affair, she says, “I want to call you Daddy." Then, after Francis pushes her from the roof of Buckingham Palace, a shocked Mattie shouts "Daddy!" on her way down.
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Not To Dwell On The Word "Daddy," But...

This sexual-paternal theme also exists in the American version. When Zoe Barnes and Frank Underwood are sleeping together for the first time, he slyly says, "Aren't you going to wish me a happy Father's Day?" When she points out that he doesn't have children, he responds, "Don't I?"

The theme continues. In season 5 of House of Cards, Frank Underwood tells the public, "Meet your new daddy."
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