The House of Cards Trilogy (1990)

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Released 9-Sep-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Ian Richardson (Actor), Andrew Davies, Ken Riddington
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 644:28 (Case: 667)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Sided
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Paul Seed
Mike Vardy

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Ian Richardson
Susannah Harker
Miles Anderson
David Lyon
Malcolm Tierney
Nicholas Selby
Alphonsia Emmanuel
James Villiers
Kenny Ireland
Diane Fletcher
Isabelle Amyes
William Chubb
John Hartley
Case ?
RPI $59.95 Music Jim Parker

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"You might very well think that . . .

 . . . I could not possibly comment"

    A famous line from a famous villain - the irrepressible and ambitious Francis Urquhart, played with sublime relish by Ian Richardson. Has there ever been a drama series that featured a lead character so villainous and cunning, so conniving and greedy, so utterly contemptible, and yet loved by the audience to such an extent that you found yourself cheering him on with gusto? Well you might think that, but I could not possibly comment!

    The House Of Cards Trilogy DVD contains the three parts of the sensational early 1990s drama series that saw us cheering on the antics of ambitious conservative MP Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) and his quest for absolute power and control of the government of the United Kingdom. Originally airing as three separate series - House Of Cards (1990), To Play The King (1993), and The Final Cut (1995), this nicely packaged DVD again showcases the true benefit of the medium by housing all three series across 12 episodes on three dual layered and double sided discs. It certainly takes up far less room on the shelf than the old VHS version which was housed on six video cassettes.

    Regarded by many critics as being among the upper echelon of British drama, this politically-based series was adapted from the novels written by Michael Dobbs, himself a former aide to conservative PM Margaret Thatcher. It is this first hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Tory party and Westminster, coupled with a superbly adapted script by Andrew Davies, and a stunningly evil performance by Ian Richardson in the lead role that elevates this series to among the handful of greatest political dramas ever made. As the old adage states - absolute power corrupts absolutely and this highly enjoyable drama series demonstrates that no truer word has ever been spoken. The use of direct-to-the-camera soliloquy to instantly feel a part of Francis Urquhart's inner thoughts and desires lends an almost Shakespearean feel to the production and keeps the story cracking along at a rapid pace.

    Here's a quick rundown of each series. Keep in mind that in order to provide at least something in the way of plot it is necessary to give away a little of the plot from the previous series, but I've kept all the good bits secret.

House of Cards (1990)

    Incumbent British Prime Minister Henry Collingridge is not having the best of times of late. He's just copped a hammering in the polls but still managed to hold onto power by the skin of his teeth. Unfortunately not all in the Tory party are happy with him and there are rumblings of discontent starting to surface among the party members. The Prime Minister calls on his Chief Whip, the party man responsible for whipping the troops into shape to "put a bit of stick about" and remind the party just who is boss. The Chief Whip is Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), a man who supposedly holds no desire for power himself, but is easily among the most powerful in the party. Regularly called upon to clean up the mess from various members' indiscretions, Urquhart is a man who is privy to every little grubby secret that every member in the House Of Commons would rather be kept just that - secret. This knowledge may just prove useful one day, especially with the party leadership rumours starting to gather momentum. Of course the PM trusts Urquhart without question and divulges his innermost secrets and fears to the man whom he considers a close friend and someone with no supposed desire to be leader. But there is much more to Urquhart than meets the eye and when a eager and ambitious young newspaper journalist, Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), starts asking questions of the chief whip and suddenly finds herself drawn into his inner sanctum, it is soon obvious that Urquhart indeed does have desire for a higher office - a much higher office. It is also revealed with frightening certainty that he will stop at nothing to get there.

To Play The King (1993)

    It's now a few years since Francis Urquhart became Prime Minister and he is certainly enjoying the spoils of office with a considerable majority in government. But he has a new and much more interesting challenge ahead of him. The queen has recently died and the newly crowned King (Michael Kitchen in a role that remains un-named but bears mannerisms that are an uncanny impersonation of Prince Charles), has a whole raft of liberal-minded ideas that instantly clash with the ideology of Urquhart's hardline government. As the name of the series suggests, Urquhart isn't about to take this battle lying down and so a "Battle Royale" ensues with the PM using every grubby trick in the book to discredit the royalty. As the opinion polls mount against him and with the King's popularity on the increase, Urquhart will prove once again that he will go to extraordinary lengths to remain in the job and prove that he is the one in charge. This series is easily the pick of all three, with some superb acting and real "what if this could really happen" scenarios playing on the minds of the audience at all times.

The Final Cut (1995)

    This is the most controversial of the three series, which opens with the state funeral of long-serving conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dominating the story. Apparently author Michael Dobbs was so aghast at this change to his original story and the disrespect shown to the former leader that he demanded to have his name removed from the opening credits. But the importance of the Thatcher legacy is very important to this final part of the Urquhart story. Prime Minster Francis Urquhart has just about achieved everything he has ever wanted to do. But there are a couple of things he would like to accomplish before leaving office. Firstly it's a desire to leave his mark on not just the United Kingdom, but Europe as well that fills his most pressing needs. A resolution to the long-running feud between the Turkish and Greek halves of the island of Cyprus looks possible, and Urquhart, ever ready to seize an opportunity for a little rewriting of history (and a possible financial windfall) gets down and dirty with the negotiations. His second desire is simple. A day after the unveiling of what he considers a loathsome statue and memorial to Margaret Thatcher, Urquhart will beat "that bloody woman's record" and fulfil his desire to "erase that woman from public memory". A desire to become the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill is now what drives Urquhart, and again he will prove adept in letting nothing stand in his way to achieve it.

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Transfer Quality


    Overall, the video transfer looks far better than I would have imagined, especially considering the oldest series is approaching 14 years old.

    The video is of course presented in its original television ratio of 1.33:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    While not as sharp as say a modern film, it is still more than acceptable. It is bright and clear, with good clarity in virtually every scene. There is no trace of any edge enhancement and shadow detail is excellent. There is minimal grain and no low level noise.

    Colours are not exactly bright and vivid, but then this is in keeping with the feel of the story. There are no issues with oversaturation or bleeding.

    There are no apparent compression artefacts. Film-to-video artefacts are pretty much absent. Film artefacts for the main part are absent, which is always pleasing, especially for a source print that is up to 14 years old. Unfortunately it is the newest episodes that come off probably the worst in this respect. During episode three of The Final Cut, there is substantial damage to the source print with some really glaring and quite large scratches and blobs at 27:21-27:24.

    There are English subtitles present. I sampled them extensively throughout most of the episodes and found them mostly accurate and well placed on screen.

    All three discs are single-layered and dual sided, with two episodes on each side of the disc. As a result a layer change is not present, but you do need to flip the discs over between episodes two and three.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    All 12 episodes across the three series feature at least one audio soundtrack. For the main feature this is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded at a bitrate of 192 Kb/s. The first episode of each part also features a second audio soundtrack. This is an English commentary track also encoded at a bitrate of 192 Kb/s.

    There really isn't a great deal to say about the audio. It's a fairly solid effort, with little in the way of any crash and bang to really fire up the speakers.

    Dialogue, which is really the most important audio component of this soundtrack, is excellent and easily understood. There are no audio sync issues.

    Jim Parker's title score is quite rousing and really captures the pompous, ruling class feel evident throughout the story.

    There is no surround use or discrete subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio

Audio Commentary - Ian Richardson, Andrew Davies and Ken Riddington

    The first episode of each of the three series features an audio commentary. Participating in the commentary is Mr Francis Urquhart himself, Ian Richardson, plus screenwriter Andrew Davies and producer Ken Riddington. Ian Richardson does the bulk of the talking and he's got more than a few stories and interesting anecdotes to tell. There is a fair bit of stating what is simply happening on screen and the other two speakers can get a little stuffy in their delivery at times. It certainly sounds like it was recorded recently and overall I'd say it's a worthy extra to a wonderful series.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    From what I can gather the Region 1 version of this set does not include the audio commentary or any subtitles. It does feature a brief documentary featurette (running for about eight minutes featuring screenwriter Andrew Davies discussing the controversy of The Final Cut). It also has cast and crew bios.

    The Region 2 disc is identical to our release and based on PAL formatting and bonus commentary tracks it's an easy win to either the Region 4 or the Region 2 disc.


    The House Of Cards Trilogy is a fitting way to present three outstanding drama series in the one DVD package. All three series - House Of Cards (1990), To Play The King (1993), and The Final Cut (1995) are presented here on three dual sided DVDs. This is an outstanding political drama filled with greed, corruption, and characters of the most malevolent Machiavellian style you are ever likely to see. The lead role of Francis Urquhart is played with sublime relish by Ian Richardson, and must surely rank as the pinnacle of his illustrious career.

    The video and audio quality are excellent.

    The extras are limited to an interesting commentary track for the first episode of each series.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Is it cut? - REPLY POSTED
To Play the King - possible minor glitch - REPLY POSTED
Re: 'To Play the King' news report -
PS. I own the UK version - I don't want anyone thinking I'm just too lazy to look myself! (nt) -
no glitch in "To Play the King" - Bran (my bio, or something very like it)
Thanks for checking! :) (nt) -