IAN RICHARDSON FEATURE
Richardson’s performance ﬂeshed out Davies’s gloriously malevolent dialogue to make Urquhart a complex and often attractive villain, all ﬁendish asides to camera, and threats cloaked in wit. ‘l had no say in the words that are spoken,’ says Richardson, ‘but i had a great deal to do with creating the character. I think it always is the case with a part that you get the material, and mould it to your imagination in order to perform it. in this series, Urquhart isn’t quite the same man he was. He keeps having bad moments, recollections of Mattie Storin’s life, coming back to haunt him at the most inconvenient moments. That is something that Andrew has emphasised much more than the book. and he’s also shown Urquhart to be much more vulnerable, and increasingly so, in the highest position in the land. it’s quite realistic in a way, when you consider Margaret Thatcher’s last days, in her lonely tower surrounded by a lot of barking, snarling hounds. There are moments when Urquhart sees the writing on the wall for himself.’
Andrew Davies has never been a slave to the original text. in Dobbs’s version of House Of Cards it was Urquhart, not Storin who took the fatal tumble (when the author’s aunt watched the TV adaptation she phoned Dobbs in outrage, exclaiming ‘They let the bastard get away with it.’). In fact the combination of
Urquhart with new political advisor Sarah Harding (Kitty Aldrlde). “He wants her tor
. . if»
her brain at first, but one thing leads to another."
Dobbs’s unrivalled inside knowledge (he was a Conservative Party apparatchik for ten years and Tory Chief of Staff in the l987 election) and Davies’s brilliant grasp of blackly comic TV dramatisation technique works a treat.
‘Michael Dobbs knows intimately the goings-on in the corridors of power,’ says Richardson. ‘l’d say 85 per cent of it was authentic. Then Andrew Davies gets his hands on it and turns it into something rather different. it was never Dobbs‘s idea that Urquhart should become a murderer and I think he’s slightly dismayed by that. But Andrew saw that there was life in the old villain yet. and thought “Why polish him off after only four episodes?" He’s no fool is Davies.‘
Part of the reason for the success of House Of Cards was its uncanny timeliness. While the dramatised political power struggle was being played out on BBCl in late 1990, the news was full of much the same story with the downfall of Thatcher. To Play The King has similar intimate fiirtations with reality. featuring as it does the crowning of a king with a social conscience and woolly leftish inclinations, separated from his wife. and heading a Royal Family beset by sexual scandals, constantly hounded by the tabloids. It will be hardly
surprising if viewers regard it as a pointed
‘The veggie-mulching, eco-friendy monarch proves a tougher opponent than anticipated, and Urquhart’s sattmine eyebrows are destined to twitch more than a little agitatediy during the course of four episodes.’
satire, although, as Richardson points out, that’s not the intention.
‘Of course there are unmistakable parallels,’ he says, ‘with the king separated from his wife, though not actually divorced, and the wife has a son, there is another princess who is a bit of a tearaway, sleeping around a bit . . . there are those similarities. On the other hand, Michael Kitchen has turned in a brilliant performance as the king, and while he has that rather clipped way of speaking that we associate with the Prince of Wales, that is the only bit of downright imitation that he’s done. The rest of it is the creation of a fictional character. There’s no attempt to suggest at all that this is Charles. That would be a very big mistake. it’s a piece of fiction. Just because there are parallels with other members of the royal family, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. After all, we ﬁlm in a facsimile situation of the House of Commons, but we’re not saying that person over there is John Smith, we’re just playing out a piece of fiction in a realistic setting.’
in House Of Cards, Urquhart was centre-stage in virtually every scene. in To Play The King he has to share the attention with the royal personage, a change Richardson relishes, as he had worried that the character might begin to pail. As it is, he regards the role as something of a career highlight.
‘lt’s such brilliant stuff to play. When you reach my age which is nearly 60, you settle into a routine, because one isn’t a Sean Connery or a Michael Caine, of appearing in character roles of reasonable size but no great importance, in other people’s dramas. You turn in nice little cameo performances and l’d settled into this routine and was quite enjoying it because it’s nearly always very well paid. Then along comes something like Urquhart that reminds me of the demands placed on me in my RSC days. Certainly in the first series l carried the whole thing on my shoulders. To get a role like that at my age and to be allowed to do those things at my age is quite extraordinary. It goes at a hectic pace, and I get fairly knackered by the end of it, but nevertheless it’s always enormous fun.’
And there’s already talk of a third Urquhart series. Andrew Davies has once more played tricks with Dobbs’s novel’s moralistic ending, and the scope is there for the devious PM to go for one more term. ‘There is buzz talk already about going for a third and last series,’ Richardson admits, ‘thereby making an Urquhart trilogy, if you like those grand terms. l’ve agreed only on condition that Urquhart either gets killed or gets his come-uppance, ceases to exist in some way.’ And what form will this nemesis take? Toppled off a tall building by a jilted lover might be a nice classical touch, perhaps?
‘You may think comment.’ C]
To Play The King begins on BBC I on Sunday November 2 I at 9.05pm.
that. i cannot possibly
The List 19 November—2 December 1993 11