House of Cards

Another addictive American drama, House of Cards explores the complex world of American politics. Producer and writer Beau Willimon made the entire first series of House of Cards available on the television streaming service Netflix in February 2013, meaning that for the first time viewers did not have to wait a week between episodes. It has been noted numerous times over the last few years that American television is becoming the preferred method of storytelling, as it allows for longer narrative arcs and deeper characterization. House of Cards continues this trend.

With the first few episodes directed by David Fincher (of Fight Club and The Social Network fame) right from the start House of Cards has a dark and strange atmosphere. A political drama that focuses on the underbelly of the American government, House of Cards revolves around Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey), a congressman and the House Majority Whip. In the first episode we learn that Underwood has been expecting an appointment to the Secretary of State under the new President. However, at the last minute there is a change of plans and Underwood is told he will be staying in congress. So begins Underwood’s quest for revenge, and the central premise of the series.

Underwood is a great character and Spacey is perfect for the role. I love his slow Southern drawl and his long-suffering sighs. At first I wasn’t sure about Underwood’s little asides to the camera, but by the end of the second episode they began to grow on me. They lend the show a sort of Shakespearean tone, and Underwood is quite Macbeth-like in his obsession with revenge. His wife Claire (played by Robin Wright) makes a great Lady Macbeth, too: supporting her husband’s mission, strong and cruel and regal in her own endeavours, with a hint of a guilty conscience. The thing I don’t like about the asides is that they often explain too much of what has just happened. They could serve a more powerful and poetic function, and it would be nice if the audience was given a chance to decipher the main action on its own. I’ve just recently re-read a few of Harold Pinter’s plays, and the way he uses dialogue to show relationships is amazing and incredibly subtle. House of Cards at times could do with a few lessons from Pinter.

Overall, intriguing and dark with some fascinating characters, especially those played by Spacey and Wright. Certainly worth watching, at least the first two episodes directed by Fincher.

The first series of House of Cards, produced and developed by Beau Willimon, is an adaptation of the BBC series of the same name. Willimon’s series won three Emmys, including awards for cinematography and direction (David Fincher). A second season of House of Cards is currently being produced.

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