House of Cards (BBC 1990) – Episode Two

house 02

The beleaguered prime minster and his colleagues have decamped to Brighton for the party conference.  Urquhart acidly rates the performances of his colleagues, all of whom are subtly auditioning for the PM’s job.

Michel Samuels (“Intelligent, sensitive, caring – all in the same sentence, I bet you”). Peter McKenzie (“God, what an idiot that man is”). Harold Earle is dismissed with a shake of the head, which leaves Patrick Woolton (“The man’s a lout, of course. A lout. A lecher. An anti-Semite. A racist. And a bully. He is however more intelligent than he seems.”)

Woolton is a clear and present danger, so Urquhart once again seeks the help of Roger O’Neill or more specifically, O’Neill’s assistant Penny Guy (Alphonsia Emmanuel). Ian Richardson displays the steel that lies just below Urquhart’s surface when he requests her services, although not for himself. “Shut up. Did you really think I wanted her?”  Instead, Urquhart requests she resume her relationship with Woolton (for reasons which will become clearer later om).

Alphonsia Emmanuel seems to have dropped off the radar in recent years (only one film/television credit post 1998) which is a pity, as she was always a very watchable presence. And every time I see her, it reminds me that Rockliffe’s Babies still remains unavailable on DVD. Maybe one day ….

When Roger suggests that she might like to join Woolton for dinner, there’s a real spark of anger.  “Pimping now, is it? Don’t you care about me at all? Don’t you care what I do?”  The anger quickly fades though and she agrees – which means her energetic love-making with Woolton is recorded by Urquhart (in a lovely scene, where he’s sitting upright in his bed, wearing a pair of headphones).  It’s another piece of insurance, to be used at the appropriate time.

Urquhart’s schemes continue apace.  He convinces Woolton that should Henry Collingridge stand down, he’d be the best man for the job.  Later, he also convinces the boorish newspaper magnate Ben Landless (Kenny Ireland) that Collingridge is yesterday’s man – and the power of the press is a powerful weapon.  Like so much of the story, it’s possible to find real-life parallels (how often has the press been gulity of creating, rather than shaping, public opinion?)  Landless is a rather unsubtle amalgam of the two most famous newspaper and media magnates of the time, Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell.  I’m not quite sure exactly what accent Ireland was attempting, but he impresses nonetheless.

Mattie has an encounter in the bar with the PM’s frequently drunken brother Charles Collingridge.  It’s only a short scene, but James Villiers makes it a memorable one.  “Lord, you are a pretty girl.  Oh, no offence. I’ve got a daughter your age. Lovely girl. Lovely face. Never, never see her. Own fault. Water under the thingy.”

The full revelations of the fake financial scandal engineered by Urquhart seem to spell the end of Henry Collingridge’s career and the episode closes on the developing relationship between Urquhart and Mattie.  Elizabeth Urquhart suggested that there was one way to ensure Mattie’s total loyalty and we see the first steps taken here.

Once again, we see Urquhart standing over the seated Mattie, reinforcing his dominance over her.  He pretends to be surprised at the way the conversation has gone and tells her he’s old enough to be her father.  When she responds that maybe that has something to do with it, after a beat he sits down and tells her that “oddly enough, I always wanted a daughter.”

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