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Although weaker than House of Cards, To Play the King is consistently
entertaining, perhaps more so than the other parts of the trilogy, which
ended with The Final Cut.
Francis Urquhart has been PM (played by the wonderful Ian Richardson) for some time now, and he now faces a challenge in the new King (a compelling impersonation of Princes Charles by Michael Kitchen), who's views on Britain conflict wildly with Urquhart's. Added to this, Urquhart is engaging in an affair with Sarah Harding (Kitty Aldridge), a pollster, and seriously getting on the wrong side of his oldest friend and Chief Whip/Party Chairman Tim Stamper (played by Colin Jeavons, who almost steals the show from Richardson), who has incriminating evidence concerning Urquhart's involvement in the death of journalist Mattie Storin.
To Play the King carries on the Urquhart trilogy with great confidence. Despite the fact that it came three years after House of Cards, all of the recurring cast slip back into their roles with ease. The location work and music are also outstanding. However, the real weakness with this production is that Andrew Davies' script goes over old ground. The dialogue is naturally superb, but Urquhart's relationship with Harding is thin compared to the one between him and Mattie, and the ending strangely lacks the emotional edges of the other two in the series.
That said, To Play the King is highly enjoyable, and worth checking out if you were a fan (and who wasn't) of House of Cards.
This mini-series is the second in the three adapted by Andrew Davies from
Michael Dobbie's books. It is less of a romp than the first, `House of
Cards', in which Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) gets to the top of the
slippery pole by various underhand means; in fact he is now secure as prime
minister and leader of the conservative party. He has, however, a problem
with the king, a Prince Charles-type figure, who is not prepared to be a
mere figurehead but aspires to be the conscience of the nation. This of
course simply will not do and Francis and the king are soon on a collision
course. The result is inevitable, and once again `F U' leaves bodies in his
The king's angst is wonderfully realised by Michael Keaton, though he does seem a bit intelligent for a member of the present British royal family. Again, the supporting actors are delightful, with Colin Jeavons, the man born to play Uriah Heep, creepily unctious and then coldly furious as Stamper the Whip, who Francis rejects for higher office. Diane Fletcher as Elizabeth Urquhart continues smoothly in her Lady Macbeth role and there are some great clown characters such as the two princesses (not a million miles from Diana and Fergie) and the gallant Sir Bruce, editor of the `Daily Muckracker,' played with boozy enthusiasm by David Ryall.
Towards the end the show weakens a bit, and the final explosions are rather contrived. It is interesting, though, how an able, ruthless character like `F U' attracts supporters there are plenty of people more than happy to carry out his orders, like Corder, his security man (Nick Brimble). The King, on the other hand, is supported by nice people, but like him, they become victims.
The relationship between hereditary monarch and elected prime minister is an important one, and Dobbie has to be commended for drawing attention to it; his bleak conclusion is that the King, who once could do no wrong, can now do no good. That's a pity, for someone needs to exercise some supervision over the `F U's' of this world. Once again, this is good entertainment, if not such a romp as the first series.
Francis Urquhart has risen through the ranks of Britain's Conservative
Party and its political ranks to become Prime Minister. Now a new King
is being crowned who stands opposed to everything Urquhart stands for.
What happens when a liberally minded King and a conservative Prime
Minister meet head to head in a battle for control of the UK's
political life? That is the question that lies at the heart of To Play
The King, the second miniseries in the House Of Cards trilogy.
Like its predecessor, if there is any single element that makes this miniseries as much of a success as it is, it is lead character, Francis Urquhart as played by actor Ian Richardson. Richardson plays Urquhart as a modern day (modern day being an alternate version of early 1990's UK) version of Shakespeare's Richard III as much as he did originally. Urquhart might be at the top, but he's determined to stay there at whatever cost as he tries first to use and then do battle with the King. Yet we begin to see the human side of this man as he haunted by the events at the end of House Of Cards and must face the possibility of treason by those closest to him. Once again, Richardson makes all this work incredibly well and makes Urquhart a man who is ruthless yet immensely charming and likable nonetheless. It is a compliment to Richardson and his skills that he can make it all work, especially the soliloquies, while being evil yet charming all at the same time.
Opposing Urquhart is the new King played by actor Michael Kitchen. Kitchen's King is a likable, charming liberally minded monarch who wants to use his place in the nation to help improve his country. When any and all of his ideas are tossed aside, the king is forced into a head to head confrontation with the Prime Minister. Kitchen plays the King as a man of principle who is really a simple man. In fact it his the King hopes that right equals might in taking on Urquhart that makes him a perfect antagonist and a worthy opponent indeed.
Backing both Richardson and Kitchen is once again a fine supporting cast. Returning from House Of Cards are Diane Fletcher as Urquhart's wife plus Colin Jeavons as Tim Stamper, who finds himself increasingly compromised and frustrated by Urquhart, who both give strong performances. Kitty Aldridge joins the cast as Sarah Harding who becomes a communications aide to Urquhart and while she gives a good performance, the relationship between her and Urquhart pushed believability in my mind. There's also Nicholas Farrell and Rowena King as the King's aides David Mycroft and Chloe Carmichael, respectively, who both find themselves having the help the King do battle and face becoming causalities themselves. There's also Nick Brimble as security man Corder and Bernice Stegers as the estranged Princess Charlotte who leave quite an impression with their brief appearances. Not forgetting Susannah Harker as Mattie Storin who, while only appearing in sound and film clips from House Of Cards, still looms large over the events that unfold. Like its predecessor, this miniseries is blessed by a fine cast backing its two leading men.
There's the production values as well. Many of those who worked on House Of Cards returned to this miniseries and their work is just as good here. Once again there's fine production design by Ken Ledsham who creates the worlds ranging from 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and beyond. There's also the cinematography of Jim Fyans and Ian Punter which once again brings a fine sense of atmosphere to the world of the miniseries. Last but not least here is once again the music by Jim Parker, especially with the main title and end title pieces which serve as a perfect start and closing to the four episodes of the miniseries. All of this, once again under the direction of Paul Seed, helps to make the miniseries stand up against its predecessor well indeed.
Which brings us to the script. Once again Andrew Davies adapts Michael Dobbs novel into a script that is less a political thriller then a political parable if not satire at times. Davies looks at what happens when the two opposing mind sets of a liberally minded King and a conservative Prime Minister meet head to head. The result is a battle of wits as the two men attempt through their various lieutenants to help their cause come out on top. It is a story about the modern process of media control and how that can clash with both the idealistic and the cynical alike. It is also a story that looks at how power effects those who hold it as Urquhart is haunted by the events at the end of House Of Cards and must face the possibility of treason by two of those closest to him. There's also a fair bit of satire as well covering the scandals of the royal family in the early 1990's and the media's reactions to them as well. The result is a script that isn't quite as gripping as House Of Cards but more thought provoking.
To Play The King is a fine successor to House Of Cards. From the performances of Richardson and Kitchen in the lead roles, a fine supporting cast, good production values and a well written script as well. While it is not the thriller the original was and is somewhat less gripping as a result, To Play The King works as something else instead. It is a parable about what happens when the liberally minded and the conservatively minded face each other head on. The result is thought provoking indeed.
'To Play the King', an adaptation of Michael Dobbs' novel of the same
title, is superb as we are invited by the protagonist, PM Francis
Urquhart to watch as he attempts to cling to his position of absolute
power. Ian Richardson as the unscrupulous right-wing premier is
magnificent and the cast are brilliant; stand-outs including Colin
Jeavons as Stamper and Michael Kitchen as the socialist King.
Urquhart's direct-to-camera moments are memorable and the viewer can't help but admire the person we should in actual fact loathe. The action is at a break-neck pace and the plot builds up to a satisfying climax.
Is it better than House of Cards? As Urquhart would say:
"You might very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment."
There is much more drama here, much deeper character development and,
of course, the whole story has a whole new depth than that of its
predecessor 'House of Cards', which everyone seems to prefer. That was
mostly humorous, very light entertainment.
I found this one far more rewarding due to the above. Gone was the inevitability and lack of challenge of 'H.O.C.'. Here the main character has to plum to real depths to achieve his aims.
Onto the gripes: Primarily, the pacing is a real problem. It struck me that the first three episodes were little more than exposition, establishing the situations of the story, a three-hour Act One. Nothing really happens, story-wise, until the final episode.
The presentation of the homeless was at times a little trite, although it was amusing to confirm my suspicions about Emma Bunton's acting skills.
I did not find the ending forced at all. In fact, the means are far more convincing and difficult to pull off than any of the maneuverings of 'H.O.C.'
What carries this serial through really is the relationship between Urquhart and Harding. Although clearly an echo of that of with Storrin in 'H.O.C', it does not seem out of place; here is something with strange, emotional, dark and disturbing undertones.
This entire BBC series is well worth watching. The screenplay is literate and hilarious. All the actors are wonderful, the script is great, and they've spared no expense with locations! This is an exciting series and I can't recommend it highly enough. Too bad in the United States we don't have actors talented enough to pull of a series such as this one. Diane Fletcher and Ian Richardson are perfect! All the actors in this were first rate and I certainly hope to see more of all of them in the future.
Compared to the first House of Cards, this is a retread of familiar
ground, far-fetched in spots, and fizzles out in the 'explosive'
finale. It is still fun to watch, and together with Cards, a great
The narrative tension arises from the fact that the protagonistFrancis Urquhart, now Prime Minister after the events of the first oneis both an actor inside the story and the capricious narrator who in telling it attempts to control that story and his environment, Lolita-wise. (which Ian Richardson has not only known, as anyone in his trade can be expected to, but actually played on the stage, in Albee's Broadway version as apparently Nabokov himself)
We are roped in the story, by Urquhart making the camera a co- conspirator on his side.
This could have been of more interest than the first. The issue of co- conspiratorial viewing more ambiguously rears its head here, because mixed with parliamentary intrigue, the great deceiver is beginning to show signs of doubt and remorse, but knowing him to be a demagogue, can we trust him? Is he lucidly toying with us? Do we open up? It all comes back to Lolita, the seduced younger woman, his mirrored nemesis the current Chief Whip. It is good material, a good text to work from.
Alas, the same problem persists as in Cards.
Urquhart's doubt grows from memories of the first film, the whole Mattie Storin affair. If you haven't seen Cards, he has done something horrible even by his standards, and tormenting visions begin to seep into and disrupt his control.
Now there are two types of film when dealing with cinematic memory, mostly distinct of each other.
Films where memory is a narrative device and the reminiscing self fetches the images as insight into some past story, a category of which this is a part of, and can be relied on for a good jigsaw but hardly much else. Hitchcock usually worked in this way.
And films, much fewer, where true to the function of memory, images steal into the story as insight of the narrating self, images not always in the right order or logical that partly create the self. All the great films (as well as Lolita) fall in this latter category.
So the narrative is clean and logical, which the British do better than anyone. The acting is fine, Richardson above all. But, there is no reason whatsoever for Urquhart to be truly confiding to the viewer, especially now that we see aspects of Urquhart he does not control. Everyone else is being lied to, uncertain and fumbling, but we are not. This is as if Lolita was just a chronicle of mischiefs, missing layers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was the follow up series to House Of Cards, continuing the rise
and rise up the Greasy Pole of Francis Urquhart, good old FU to us
viewer-confidantes. Or as in all of his friends opinions, a right old
swine because he stops at nothing to cling on to power.
FU is a UK Prime Minister with plenty of dark secrets in his murky past just for a change when from his wife he gets the idea of hiring a bright young woman as his "slave" to do his (political) bidding. While engaged in a running battle of wits with the earnest and wimpish ruling monarch he finds that he needs her ideas, input and eventually her sexual support too. And only natural too, for what are Men but mere slaves to the Urge? Unfortunately along with his other aide she gets too many ideas, such as what really happened to his former lover? It's all as well done as the first series, and just as predictable but refreshing cynicism on its own isn't quite enough this time round. When it came the climax was totally foreseeable which only made me wonder why they couldn't foresee it! Introducing people per episode, nurturing them and then killing them off was something I used to laugh at in Star Trek over 40 years ago. However, ignoring the shallow ending the plot itself was engrossing enough to keep me hooked for another four hours, and Ian Richardson's wonderfully nasty and slimy performance certainly was a masterclass.
It's an entertaining time passer which also informs and educates if you need it never ever trust any politician, or aristocrat for that matter, period.
This is great and fascinating. You should watch it! Not sure is it an
action or a crime-thriller? Maybe adventure.
Actually in this show I have learned what is parliament politics. The owner of this serial are British - it explains why it is so good. This is real - the ways in the politics... What to do, to survive. Actors are so fine in this movie. No complains. All scenes are great. King is King - his role is the best.
I have open my brain to maximum when I was watching it.
I give my full ten points for this movie.
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