Monday, February 12, 2007

Ian Richardson, RIP

I totally missed this over the weekend (but then apparently so did the Washington Post), but British Shakespearean actor Ian Richardson died this past Friday. He was 72.

To the extent Americans knew him at all, they would likely best remember him as the deliciously wicked Francis Urquhart in BBC-TV mini-series House of Cards and its two sequels, To Play the King and The Final Cut.

(spoiler alert!)

Richardson played an utterly amoral, patrician conservative member of Parliament after the end of Margaret Thatcher's administration. He detested the Tories' choice for Thatcher's replacement, Henry Collingridge ("a man with no background and no bottom"). After being spurned for a Cabinet post, and with a little encouragement from his wife, Elizabeth (a role that could be the direct descendant of Lady Macbeth), Urquhart undertakes a series of clandestine acts, through other people unaware they are being used, to bring Collingridge down, all the while playing the loyal Party Whip. In order to achieve this, he gains the trust of an up-and-coming reporter, Mattie Storin, for a Tory tabloid and uses her to disseminate information against the government. His signature phrase to her probing questions, "You might very well think that. I could not possibly comment," meaning, "Yes, you're right, and I'll deny ever saying so," was absolutely priceless. I've incorporated it in my phrase lexicon ever since. Storin eventually becomes his lover, a relationship encouraged by Madame Urquhart. She, however, had been secretly recording their conversations.

Once he manipulates the prime minister to step down, he systematically destroys each of his rivals' chances at being elected prime minister. He then kills his useful, but cocaine-addicted idiot, Roger O'Neill, by putting rat poison in his stash. Meanwhile, Storin begins to piece together the one common thread in the destruction of Collingridge and the other candidates for prime minister. The day of Urquhart's election, she confronts him in the Parliament's rooftop garden about O'Neill's death and in a move that surprised the dog out of me when I first watched it, he heaves her off the rooftop.

Richardson played the role with such absolute charm that Urquhart became the premiere anti-hero. Ripping good stuff. The sequels, as sequels are wont to do, fail to live up to the wonderfulness of the original series.

Farewell, Ian Richardson. "Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday."


BBC's coverage. And more. A nice obituary. Here's a BBC video.

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