Monday 26 September 2016

New series of ‘House of Cards’ is a romp but it can’t match ‘The Donald’ for drama

House of Cards, Season 4

Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood with his co-stars, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly. The eagerly awaited series 4 premiered on Netflix this week.
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood with his co-stars, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly. The eagerly awaited series 4 premiered on Netflix this week.

Kevin Spacey is back as dastardly Frank Underwood, the moustache-twirling political bad boy we love to hate.

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And this year he has even more on his plate than usual. First Lady Claire has gone awol, threatening to pull the rug from under Frank as he seeks re-election as US President.

Meanwhile, enemies from his past are closing in, determined to bring the Commander-in-Chief down  by means fair or foul.

After last week’s seemingly endless general election, you might think that political skulduggery was the last thing Irish viewers needed more of.

But ‘House of Cards’ is worth making an exception for.

With its gorgeous production values, chillingly persuasive performances and biting dialogue, as the show returns to Netflix for a fourth season it remains one of the most compelling things on television. 

There’s an intriguing line-up of new characters, including Ellen Burstyn as Claire’s embittered crone mother; and Nineties actress Neve Campbell as a ruthless campaign manager.

Yet, as ever, the bright shining stars at the centre of the action remain those ghastly Underwoods – Frank (Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright).

Spacey has always enjoyed playing the charmingly thuggish Frank – the sort of politician who will stab you in the back only when looking you in the eye and slitting your throat isn’t an option.

However, this year he slipped beneath Underwood’s skin with even more relish than usual. He was back, breaking the fourth wall with his to-camera monologues, inviting the viewer to feel duplicitous as he hoodwinked, cajoled and bullied his ways down the corridors of power.

As we rejoined Frank, he was duking it out with his Democratic party rivalry for the Presidential nomination – the squeaky-clean Heather Dunbar.

Dark against light, cynicism against hope: it promised to be a compelling competition. And on the horizon was an even more ominous foe – the Kennedy-esque Republican darling Will Conway (his wife is played by Dublin actress Dominique McElligott).

Claire, meanwhile, had an agenda of her own.

At the end of last season she’d walked out on Frank, feeling she had played second fiddle too long.

She nursed hefty political ambitions too  – and she was determined to make them a reality, even if it sank her husband’s campaign.

For Underwood die-hards it was like welcoming a pair of old friends back into your living room.

Of course it is impossible to discuss the Netflix juggernaut without touching on the drama of the real-world Presidential race.

Here, without question, reality trumps fiction. ‘House of Cards’ has, across four years, assembled an appealing menagerie of weirdos, misfits and iconoclasts – yet none quite as implausible as Donald Trump.

‘House of Cards’ is a riotous romp, no question.

But for properly mind-bending politics, you’re probably better off watching the evening news.

Irish Independent

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