House of Cards (BBC 1990) – Episode Three

house 03

Henry Collingridge calls an emergency cabinet meeting and announces his immediate resignation.  He thanks all of his colleagues for their friendship and loyalty – at least those who feel that the words apply to them.  Later, he visits his brother in the private nursing home where he’s drying out and emotionally tells him that he’s glad it’s all over and he won’t have to fight the “bastards” anymore.  This is another scenario that has an eerie ring of truth (John Major, after shortly surviving a vote of confidence in 1993, was equally scathing about some of his cabinet colleagues).

Afterwards, Urquhart once again addresses the watching audience.  “Not feeling guilty, I hope. If you have pangs of pity, crush them now. Grind them under your heel like old cigar butts. I’ve done the country a favour. He didn’t have the brain or the heart or the stomach to rule a country like Great Britain. A nice enough man, but there was no bottom to him. His deepest need was that people should like him. An admirable trait, that. In a spaniel or a whore.  Not, I think in a Prime Minster.”  It’s even more impressive that he delivers this speech whilst standing at a urinal!

Urquhart is content to let others announce their desire to stand first, he’ll enter the race later in the day.  He can count on powerful friends when he does though, as he has the support of Ben Landless and his media empire.  Landless tells him that he’ll do everything he can to get him elected – and he’ll expect Urquhart to be grateful for evermore.  It’s another moment that feels horrifyingly like real life.

But there’s a subtle shift in this episode.  It’s less about Urquhart’s scheming and more about Mattie’s dogged investigations.  As the title suggests, a House of Cards may be a substantial structure, but it only takes one small movement to bring the whole edifice crashing down.  And the first stirrings happen when Mattie refuses to drop the investigation into the share scandal (even though she’s been moved off the political section of the Chronicle and onto Women’s Features).

It seems clear that Henry Collingridge couldn’t have bought the shares, since he convinces her that he’s not got a great deal in the old brain box.  So did somebody set him and his brother up?  Urquhart tries to warn Mattie off by sending Roger O’Neill round to her house (to throw a brick through the window and daub her car in paint).  This backfires when Penny confesses to Mattie that Roger was responsible, although she pleads with her not to go the police – in Roger’s current state he could easily commit suicide.

O’Neill is another link to Urquhart, but he convinces Mattie that he’s the best person to speak to O’Neill and find out exactly what he knows.  Poor, easily manipulated Roger O’Neill isn’t long for this world you’d fear ….

At present, there’s no doubt that Mattie believes everything that Francis Urquhart says.  But the problem is that she won’t stop digging.  He takes her to bed, which may be a way of earning her loyalty, but even here there’s the sense that Mattie is subtly (if unconsciously) maneuvering herself into a position of power.

Their meeting in the study is another spellbinding scene, played so well by both Richardson and Harker.  The scene alternates between tight one shots of both actors until Urquhart agrees to her request and they move into the frame together.  But what can she call him?  She doesn’t want to call him Francis and he says that calling him Chief Whip hardly seems appropriate.  After a few beats she says “I want to call you daddy.”  She has to repeat this to the (shocked?) Urquhart, but although he says nothing, the kiss seems to seal the agreement.

So can Francis Urquhart count on Mattie’s loyalty?  At present it seems so, but he isn’t aware that she’s been secretly tape-recording all of their meetings …..

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