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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.
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