Most businesses try out new things by dipping their toe in and limiting their financial exposure, testing the waters before going full hog. However Netflix isn’t that kind of company. For their second original series (after Lilyhammer), some sources suggest they spent $100 million on House Of Cards.
They also managed to draw in such big names as David Fincher to produce on the promise that unlike with normal TV, they’d be relatively hands off and just let the show’s team create. They didn’t stint on the cast either, luring in the likes of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
They’ve all come together for a US take on the British mini-series House Of Cards, which in turn was based on Michael Dobbs political novels. The 13-episodes follow Francis Underwood (Spacey), a US Congressman who’s just been instrumental in the election of the President. He’s been promised a huge job in the new administration, but is told that he’s too important in Congress and so will just have to settle with that for now.
However settling is not Underwood’s style, so he quickly sets his mind whirring with all manner of Machiavellian plans. With a wife (Wright) who’s just as scheming as he is, Francis begins to position all those around him in just the place he wants him, so that as he consolidates power and plots his rise up the political ladder, no one will know what he’s really up to.
Amongst his pawns are young journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), who he starts leaking secrets to and soon begins an affair with, and politician Doug Stamper (Corey Stoll), who’s basically a good man, but a weakness for liquor and drink driving forces him into Underwood’s sweaty grip.
It’s a great show, shot through with huge amounts of style and excellent performances. Spacey is brilliant as Francis, bringing wit and charm to a tricky role. Underwood is essentially an amoral, unpleasant, unscrupulous and nasty person, so you need someone like Spacey to ensure you’re on his side. While you may not think that politics should be run this way (and to be honest, there are plenty of moments where it’s difficult to believe he’d get away with what he does), you still want him to come out on top.
Spacey is more than matched by Robin Wright, who is absolutely amazing as a woman who spends her days working for charity, but has ice in her veins when the situation calls for it, and essentially challenges her husband to be increasingly ruthless. Without her backing him up, you get the sense that Underwood would have caved to the pressure long ago.
It’s all a lot of fun, with only a few missteps. However its occasional weaknesses, such as moments of shoddy writing or an occasional weak plot development, are more than made up for by its strengths. Indeed, I got the feeling that while the Netflix model of doing things may result in slight unevenness, it’s also likely to allow the sort of highs it’s tough to get in the blanded out world of network television. And House Of Cards has plenty of highs.
Of course, you may be wondering why you’d fork out for the show on Blu-ray when you can just get a Netflix subscription and watch it on there. Well, even Netflix HD can’t match the quality of Blu-ray, and as this is a truly great looking show, it’s best to see it in the best way possible. That’s particularly true because of the show’s visual style, which has a tendency towards large areas of dark interspersed with pools of icy colour. Interestingly the series was also shot at an unusual aspect ratio of 2:1, meaning there are black bars at the top and bottom, but smaller ones than the usual 2.35:1 of anamorphic movies.
Overall Verdict: A great show filled with entertaining scheming and political manoeuvring, helped by some superb acting from Spacey and Wright. It looks great on Blu-ray too.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac