House of Cards US: Season Two review
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Ian Richardson never got to show the big screen what a fine actor he was. Yet, in his creation of Francis Urquhart, in the three mini-series of Michael Dobb's books, he positively purred excellence and drew the British public into a dreadful collusion with his murdering political monster. His performance is so immense, that anyone else stepping into those shoes has to nod towards his achievement of subverting the viewer - even the great Kevin Spacey.Being in on what Francis U is up to is one of the addictive elements that the original series and Netflix's re-imagining share, as Ian Richardson manipulated with commentary so does Kevin Spacey with his occasional asides. Richardson's patrician was our "Daddy", and Spacey's down home Southern Democrat is the man who does what we never could with such wit and amorality - unchecked and unstoppable both men are deeply interesting and compelling company.
The big innovation of the Netflix series is the proper equality of the Underwoods. Robin Wright gets plenty to do and to work with in terms of the writing and offers a detailed performance that is modern Lady Macbeth. Her character has a proper back-story, proper frailties and actual development, and when compared to the stiffer less elaborate Diane Fletcher you have to say that progress has been made, fictional sisters. Season One took Francis Underwood from overlooked career politician to vice president courtesy of his abuse of the whip's office. He exploited vanities, frailties and the vulnerable, and he took Zoe Barnes, an unknown journalist to great fame as manipulated and seduced this ingenue. The season ended with Barnes unpicking some of Underwood's tricks and believing him guilty of corruption and possibly murder.
Season Two begins from this place and follows Francis as he wins the trust of the president before liberating him from his advisers, his friends and even his wife. The suspicions build about him and Stamper works overtime in keeping the threats neutralised, and Mrs Underwood comes to the fore as a public figure with her own campaigns. As a couple, the Underwoods work in concert with precision whatever the threat, knowing what the other is really doing through a kind of evil telepathy. There is one particularly wacked scene involving their bodyguard which reinforces just how involved they truly are.The series also beds down in current affairs, a global battle for dominance between China and America, the struggle between multinational energy interests, and even the existence of the Tea Party. How the writers have taken Andrew Davies' original outline and shaped it to surprise and excite is rather brilliant and this spoiler free review respects the shocks they've created. As good as season one, season two goes darker, pervier and much more gritty. It is thoroughly recommended.
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