Review: House of Cards 1×1 (Netflix)

House of Cards

In the UK/US/Canada/most of the world: Available on Netflix. First episode available free.
In some other places: Acquired by HBO Europe

Welcome to the future, everyone. How are you liking it so far?

So until now, Netflix has been the TV equivalent of a library. You want to watch some TV? Okay, sure. Oh wait, actually, Mrs Brown has already got that out so how would you like to watch this instead? It’s not what you wanted to watch, but you might enjoy it anyway.

But now things are changing. Just like Amazon and other companies that used to just sell you things other people had made, Netflix has decided that it’s going to make some of its own products to get round all those thorny rights issues, broadcast networks and everything else that means they’ve never got what you wanted, when you wanted it.

Now before you mock, we’re not talking about a situation like Dave or UK Gold, in which the budget is thruppence ha’penny, the script was written by someone past their prime and who couldn’t get work anywhere else, and the best actor the producers can hire was 15th on their list of preferences.

No, for Netflix’s first production (and there’s a new series of Arrested Development coming our way, too, among other delights), they’ve got a near A-list cast (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara), an exceptional director (David Fincher) and an Oscar-nominated writer (Beau Willimon), together with a budget of $120m to put together a top-notch 13-part series: a remake of Andrew Davies’ adaption of House of Cards for the BBC, but relocated to the US, with US congressman Frank Underwood turning his Machiavellian talents to betraying everyone in his party when his promised position of Secretary of State is denied him.

And Netflix is releasing all 13 episodes around the world at the same time. If this is the future, it’s not only exciting, it’s going to make my job a lot harder. Here’s a trailer:

Ruthless and cunning, Congressman Francis Underwood (Oscar® winner Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) stop at nothing to conquer everything. This wicked political drama penetrates the shadowy world of greed, sex, and corruption in modern D.C. Kate Mara (“American Horror Story”) and Corey Stoll (“Midnight in Paris”) costar in the first original series from David Fincher (“The Social Network”) and Beau Willimon (“The Ides of March”).

Is it any good?
Comparisons with the original series will be inevitable – particularly since Netflix also has the rights to the BBC original – but seeing as I’ve not had a chance to watch that and never saw much of it at the time, I won’t be making them, except to say that Kevin Spacey isn’t quite the towering presence that Ian Richardson was, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

I’ve also only managed to get through one and a half episodes so far, so can’t do much more than say it’s really very good. It’s a delightfully intricate affair, with characters being moved about on the chessboard of politics by the fourth-wall breaking Spacey with fascinating skill. Fincher’s direction is as beautiful as ever, the locations are beautiful and the cast are great. The conversion from the UK to the US has also worked extremely well and you’d be hard pressed to spot any residual Britishness to any element of it.

The biggest problem with the series is that women don’t get much to do except largely get treated like prostitutes or actually be prostitutes. The two exceptions are Kate Mara (who gets the Maddy part from the original), a blogger for fake newspaper The Washington Herald, who wants to go up in the world and partners with Spacey to do it. She owes perhaps a little too much to Rachel McAdams’ role in the movie version of State of Play and only gets noticed because of her arse, but she does have something more to do than get naked and have sex, I guess.

The other exception is Robin Wright, Spacey’s wife, who is as underhand and evil as he is, but in a nobler cause: a charity. At least it seems nobler so far, but seeing as Wright is firing people left right and centre for what seems the stupidest reasons imaginable, I’m not entirely convinced.

Will this recoup Netflix’s investment? I doubt it. At the very least, you can sign up for a month’s free trial, watch the whole of the series and then not bother with a second month. And once you see how little there is in the Netflix catalogue – at least in the UK – that’s quite tempting, despite the price tag.

But whether it does or it doesn’t, it should be commended for doing this and you should definitely watch House of Cards, too. Maybe not all in one go, though. I’m probably going to manage… ooh, one a week. Someone should try that as a transmission strategy one day – it could be the future.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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