×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

To Play the King

Filmed in England by BBC-TV. Exec producer, Michael Wearing; producer, Ken Riddington; director, Paul Seed; writer, Andrew Davies; based on novel by Michael Dobbs; Host: Russell Baker.

With:
Cast: Ian Richardson, Michael Kitchen, Diane Fletcher, Kitty Aldridge, Colin Jeavons, Nicholas Farrell, Rowena King, David Ryall, Bernice Stegers, Frederick Treeves, Leonard Preston, Michael Howarth.

Filmed in England by BBC-TV. Exec producer, Michael Wearing; producer, Ken Riddington; director, Paul Seed; writer, Andrew Davies; based on novel by Michael Dobbs; Host: Russell Baker.

Insidious English Prime Minister Francis Urquhart, again superbly played to a fare-thee-well by Ian Richardson, returns to carry out his fictional dirty tricks in contemporary England as he did in PBS’ 1991 “House of Cards.” This time he’s tilting at the newly crowned king, whose mother has stepped down; F.U. , as he’s known, would be comfy among that “I, Claudius” bunch.

The king (Michael Kitchen), to F.U.’s horror, is a humanitarian lamenting the plight of the homeless and of environment failings. F.U. wants a return of aristocrats’ power and, as he tells viewers, means to have it. His cold-blooded wife Elizabeth (Diane Fletcher), his mean, ambitious party chairman Stamper (Colin Jeavons, in a pip of a portrayal) and, above all, his newly discovered assistant, Sarah Harding (Kitty Aldridge), whom he calls at odd times for advice , all have his number and admire it — at first.

F.U.’s haunted by the death of the late reporter Mattie Storin (Susannah Harker), whom he pushed off a building with her audio tape recorder at the conclusion of “House of Cards.” New four-hour sequel picks up with the royal crowning, F.U.’s followers and his continuing shenanigans (murder, adultery, blackmail, for instance). A mysterious, gloved figure picks up the tape recorder’s terrible secret, and it lurks through the four episodes like a time bomb.

As for the king, he gives a speech the P.M. disapproves of, and scripter Andrew Davies, following Michael Dobbs’ novel, sets up a few wobbly pegs in the royal board, like the deplorable Princess Charlotte (Bernice Stegers) and her memoirs. The king’s sole confidants are his chief of staff David Mycroft (Nicholas Farrell) and Chloe Carmichael (Rowena King); he needs more.

Urquhart’s slick, amusing asides to the camera give the first-rate program an extra dimension. Performers are as agile and revealing as they were in “House of Cards,” which Davies also wrote (and which earned him an Emmy). Shrewd director Paul Seed, who helmed “House,” shows total command as he builds tension, uncovers Davies’s self-centered, duplicitous characters.

Though it’s fiction, the unnamed king’s divorced wife (Erika Hoffman) is blonde and comely, and there’s a reminder, thanks to middle-aged Prince Charlotte (Bernice Stegers), that Margaret Rose exists. The king, interested in architecture, talks of human needs (“Compassion babble,” snorts Sarah Harding), but it’s not tough to pin a projected King Charles to the anonymous sovereign.

Urquhart, devious and monstrous in his lust for power, is a charmingly deadly force. Richardson’s portrayal, soothing as he talks to viewers, otherwise majors in nastiness as he works his way through events and past obstacles. It isn’t pretty, but it’s irresistible, and it’s good to have reliably double-dealing F.U. back.

Ken Riddington’s production, as it was in “House,” is first class. Ian Punter’s and Keith Thomas’ camerawork, Dave King’s editing are superior, and Ken Ledsham’s design gives the classy program substance.

Popular on Variety

To Play the King

Production: PBS, Suns. Jan. 16, 23, 30, Feb. 6, 9 p.m.

Crew: Camera, Ian Punter; editor, Dave King; sound, Barry Tharby, Keith Silva; music, Jim Parker; production designer, Ken Ledsham. 240 MIN.

With: Cast: Ian Richardson, Michael Kitchen, Diane Fletcher, Kitty Aldridge, Colin Jeavons, Nicholas Farrell, Rowena King, David Ryall, Bernice Stegers, Frederick Treeves, Leonard Preston, Michael Howarth.

More Film

  • Incitement

    'Incitement' Wins Ophir Award for Best Picture, Becomes Israel's Oscar Submission

    “Incitement” was the best-picture winner at Israel’s Ophir Awards on Sunday night, automatically becoming the country’s choice to vie for the international feature film Oscar. The winning film, a drama about the period leading up to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995, had its global premiere at [...]

  • LargoAI

    LargoAI Wins Inaugural San Sebastian Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Swiss artificial intelligence and data analytics company LargoAI won Sunday’s first-ever San Sebastian Film Festival Zinemaldia & Technology Startup Challenge. LargoAI’s software provides data-driven filmmaking strategies, similar to those used by major VOD platforms which aggregate and often horde their own user-driven data. From early in the screenwriting process through development and [...]

  • MARIANA-RONDÓN-MARITÉ-UGÁS

    FiGa Snags 'Contactado,' By The Team Behind San Sebastian Winner 'Pelo Malo' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s FiGa Films has picked up worldwide sales rights to “Contactado,” the upcoming feature by Sudaca Films’ Marité Ugás and Mariana Rondón, the duo behind San Sebastian 2013 Golden Shell winner, “Pelo Malo.” The Sudaca partners are attending San Sebastian to pitch Rondón-helmed project “Zafari” at the 8th Europe-Latin American Co-production Forum. Directed by [...]

  • Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

    'Ad Astra' Lifts Above Competition at International Box Office With $26 Million

    Though “Ad Astra” was overthrown by the Crawley family at the domestic box office, Brad Pitt’s astronaut drama reigned supreme at the international box office. Directed by James Gray, “Ad Astra” launched overseas with $26 million from 44 foreign markets. The $80 million sci-fi epic debuted in North America with $19.2 million, bringing global box [...]

  • hugh jackman tiff bad education

    Toronto's Biggest Deal Goes to HBO: A Sign of the Future? (Column)

    When it comes to how we’ll be watching movies — or, at least, watching serious dramas for adults — in the future, here are two stark and timely contradictory facts: 1. Last week, as the Toronto International Film Festival drew to a close, a deal that had been in the rumor stage for a while [...]

  • 'Talking About Trees' Helmer Suhaib Gasmelbari

    'Talking About Trees' Director Suhaib Gasmelbari Receives Variety MENA Award

    Suhaib Gasmelbari, whose Sudanese documentary “Talking About Trees” premiered in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, received the Variety Middle East and North Africa Region Talent Award Saturday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt from festival director Intishal Al Timimi. Variety critic Jay Weissberg, who selected the honoree, said that it is not usual that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content