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Series / House of Cards (UK)

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"You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment."
Francis Urquhart

House of Cards is a British TV show (based on the novel of the same name by Michael Dobbs) about Conservative Party chief whip Francis Urquhart (played by Ian Richardson), a Machiavellian schemer who aims to become prime minister by any means necessary. Based in part on Macbeth and in part on Richard III, this BBC series became very popular during the first series when, as Urquhart conspired to become prime minister after Margaret Thatcher resigns, she actually did a mere ten days after the first episode aired.

Three series, each one based on a novel by Dobbs, were made:

  • House of Cards (1990)
  • To Play the King (1993)
  • The Final Cut (1995)

In 2013, Netflix released an American-set original series based on the novel. The UK series airs on some PBS stations in the United States, and is also available on Netflix US alongside its US remake and in the UK it is a available on Brit Box.

You might think House of Cards provides examples of the following tropes; we couldn't possibly comment.

  • Actually Pretty Funny: In The Final Cut, Booza Pitt suggests to Urquhart to attend his own 65th year-birthday party to show his cabinet that "you're still the biggest swinging dick in Westminster." Even though Urquhart doesn't usually suffer others' inane remarks gladly, he bursts out laughing at this one almost immediately.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • The TV series focuses much more on Urquhart, and is far better for it.
    • In the novel, Urquhart's wife is a non-entity. The series turns her into the Lady Macbeth figure we know and adore.
  • Adapted Out: Max Stanbrook, a minister in Urquhart's cabinet in The Final Cut who goes on to become Prime Minister after FU's assassination, does not appear in the TV series.
  • Age-Gap Romance: There is a distinctly creepy relationship between Francis Urquhart (53 at the beginning of the series) and Mattie Storin (23 or 24). She actually calls him "Daddy," and although he's clearly using her for his own ends, it seems both are into this whole father/daughter dynamic for their own, twisted reasons (although we never quite fully figure out what they are).
  • All Men Are Perverts: A refreshing aversion in To Play the King when David Mycroft brings Ken Charterhouse back to his apartment. Ken asks for sex, but David, who has recently separated from his wife and is just starting to become comfortable again with his true orientation, declines, saying he hasn't slept with a man "since school". Ken doesn't seem to mind, and the two men decide to simply cuddle instead.
  • Alternate Universe: After Thatcher's resignation. Urquhart becomes Prime Minister for a slightly longer term than Thatcher, while both Thatcher and the Queen are implied to have died decades before their real-life deaths. Both the TV and novel versions of The Final Cut have a Conservative installed by Urquhart's machine, meaning that Labour would never have won an election between Thatcher's tenure (1979-1990) and Urquhart's (approximately 2001). Some of Urquhart's policies, like reestablishing conscription and abolishing the Arts Council, have also not happened in reality.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Tim Stamper. Though some background dialogue suggests he and his wife are looking for schools for at least one child, so his rather fey manner may not have anything to do with his sexuality. It was not unheard of in British politics for gay politicians of the time to put up a Family Man charade, so it's entirely possible that's what the wife and child were part of. It's made considerably less ambiguous in To Play the King where Tim tears up a bit as he explains to Sarah that he was turning over the incriminating tape after holding on to it for so long because he felt he had been used, and unfairly so, by Urquhart.
    "All I wanted was to serve him. To be close to him."
  • Ambition Is Evil: Urquhart's villainy stems from his desire to become Prime Minister, after being passed over for a cabinet position in the first series. The third series takes this to a larger scale as Urquhart schemes to both outdo Thatcher's record for days in office and to secure a permanent legacy in the foreign policy arena. It's rather telling that FU has a portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte - who rivals Hitler as one of England's archnemeses - on his desk.
  • Animal Motifs:
    • The first series regularly cuts to shots of rats.
    • One contemptible MP being disciplined by Urquhart rejoices in the name of Stoat.
    • Urquhart's cabinet in the third series includes Ravenscourt, Sparrowhawk, and Crowe.
  • Aside Comment: Urquhart often talks to the audience, both as exposition and telling us his own thoughts. It actually works better than one would expect. As a long-term Shakespeare actor, Richardson was probably quite comfortable with this updated version of the soliloquy. These narrative asides are notably an invention of the television adaptation, as the book used third-person narration throughout.
  • Aside Glance: Urquhart, frequently.
  • Badass Boast: FU dominates the political scene with absolute power, a bag of stunning or infamous tricks and the occasional boast.
    Francis Urquhart: My family came south with James I. We were defenders of the English Throne before your family was ever heard of. It is to preserve the ideal of the constitutional monarchy that I must now demand your abdication.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": The staged kidnapping and prompt rescue of the King in To Play A King is very obviously choreographed, down to the soldiers taking out the terrorists by rifle-butting the air.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Urquhart becomes Prime Minister.
  • Blue Blood: Urquhart comes from an aristocratic background and shows disdain for other politicians who don't. Even before Henry Collingridge snubbed him for promotion, Urquhart didn't think he was worthy of being prime minister for his undistinguished background.
  • British Brevity: A classic example. House of Cards is a grand total of twelve episodes long - three miniseries with four episodes each - produced over five years. By contrast, the American version lasted six seasons with 73 episodes in total.
  • Canon Foreigner: Tim Stamper, Urquhart's deputy, did not appear in the original novel.
  • Catchphrase: "You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment." Which has since been used by quite a few real-life politicians. Also, "Put a bit of stick about."
  • Celebrity Casualty: The Final Cut opens with the state funeral of Margaret Thatcher who was still alive at the time.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Henry Collingridge's brother Charles just happens to be the only Charles Collingridge in the entire London telephone book, which allows FU to orchestrate his gambit involving a fake insider trading crisis where Charles seemingly profited off his brother's prime ministerial decisions. This actually gets lampshaded during a television interview with the Prime Minister.
  • Conscription: FU solves a crisis by reinstating it.
  • Could Say It, But...: His catchphrase, which means: "No comment, but yes." (Naturally, he's often using it to imply self-serving narratives without actually lying.)
  • Darker and Edgier: Urquhart's exploits only escalate after the first series:
    • To Play the King has Urquhart picking a fight with and ultimately destroying the King after he speaks out against the disastrous effects of the Urquhart government's social policies.
    • The Final Cut shows Urquhart willing to sabotage a peace settlement in Cyprus (which he had previously spearheaded) and trigger a civil war in order to beat Margaret Thatcher's record for days in office.
  • Deadpan Snarker
    • Urquhart's manner, on occasion.
    • Tim Stamper has the occasional moment, especially in "To Play the King":
      Sarah Harding: (having just arrived at a surprise event at Chequeurs) Quite a heavyweight gathering isn't it? Half the cabinet, and their wives.
      Tim Stamper: Hmm, some of them are enormous, yes...
  • Discontinuity Nod: Urquhart's opening narration at the start of "To Play the King" refers to his predecessor (Collingridge) as a "frightfully nice man who talked a lot about the classless society." It's a clear reference to John Major, whose premiership doesn't exist in the "House of Cards" timeline.
  • Do You Trust Me?: Urquhart with about everyone he utilises in his schemes, most notably (and hauntingly) with Mattie Storin. The series may as well carry the name The Thing About Trust Issues.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Geoffrey Booza-Pitt gets stuck with "Sooty", much to his chagrin.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: Subverted in that it's the King who makes one, to explain how he feels society is becoming stratified and unfair to the poor. The clear implication is that Urquhart is leading Britain in the wrong direction.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Done to a tape recorder, which becomes a plot point in the second and third series.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Urquhart describes Patrick Woolton as, "A lout, a lecher, an anti-semite, a racist and a bully." He's also genuinely haunted by murdering Mattie, and doesn't really deny the King's accusation that he's a monster.
    • Rayner is a deeply unpleasant and opportunistic bully, but even he is shocked by the schoolgirl massacre.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In the second series, Urquhart simply cannot understand why the king continues to speak out against the government when none of his policies have affected the king directly. When the king tells him it's because he wants to see all of his subjects prosper and be happy, Urquhart laughs off the notion and simply believes the king wants to make a power play.
    Urquhart: Why are you doing this? What can possibly be in it for you?
    King: You really don't understand, do you?
  • Evil Chancellor: As Chief Whip, Urquhart has spent enough time as The Man Behind the Man to have worked himself into a position of influence over new Prime Minister Collingridge and most of his colleagues.
  • Evil Is Petty: Urquhart occasionally indulges in petty malice. When Collingridge tells his cabinet he has decided to resign he asks them to keep it secret so he can announce it on his own terms later that day. Urquhart leaks it to the press as soon as the meeting ends, causing reporters to pursue Collingridge before he announces and robbing him of what dignity he had left.
  • Fat Bastard: Benjamin Landless, a corrupt, greedy and monopolistic owner of numerous newspapers.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Urquhart, in House of Cards. He wins people over by being calm, decisive, charming, and someone they know they can rely on in a pinch, all the while calculating how best to stab them in the back. As the series goes on, however, his cold, snake-like qualities become more apparent to those around him, and this trope becomes less applicable. A large part of To Play the King revolves around his cold, aloof image compared to the King's heart and humanity.
  • For the Evulz: Urquhart often goes of out of his way to antagonize people purely because he can, and he clearly takes great delight in kicking his opponents while they are down.
  • Foreshadowing: In To Play the King, Urquhart mentions how a "small war" can be a politically exhilarating experience. In The Final Cut, he deliberately engineers a war in Cyprus in a last-ditch effort to stay in power.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Had the Prime Minister simply promoted Urquhart from Chief Whip to a position in the Cabinet, Urquhart would probably have remained content. Instead, it's being passed over that sets Urquhart on his scheming, destructive course.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Abrasive Frank Uruqhart's moniker FU needs no explanation.
  • Gayngst: David Mycroft.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Mattie, presumably it's short for Matilda but she's never referred to as such. Penny, with only the name to go on, assumed Mattie was a man. Author Michael Dobbs apparently lifted the name from a male colleague at the Boston Globe.
  • Ghost Town: Most of the focus of the TV series is on Urquhart as a character, so we don't really see much of the impact his policies have on Britain. However, To Play The King suggests that this trope is a growing problem, while The Final Cut reveals that he has abolished the Arts Council. Tom Makepeace hints that Urquhart's policies have hurt Britain's reputation in the European Union.
  • Handshake Refusal: The King refuses to shake Urquhart's hand when they part for the last time after FU demands his abdication.
  • Hey, That's My Line!: Urquhart's reaction to Tom Makepeace using his catchphrase on television is one of the funnier moments of the series.
  • Hope Spot: In the last episode of To Play The King, two characters are about to hand over vital evidence against Urquhart. They are prevented from doing so with extreme prejudice seconds before they reach their respective destinations.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Lord Billsborough, who says of Urquhart:
    Billsborough: He's got a good heart... dull dog, but sound as a bell... he'd never stab you in the back, however much he disliked you.
    • Also Collingridge, who believes right up to the end that Urquhart has been trying to save him, and singles him out for heartfelt thanks when he tells the Cabinet he's resigning.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Urquhart's Blackmail call to Patrick Woolton is chock full of sexual innuendo; indeed, the ultimate message to stop running for election as PM is a comment about "the withdrawal method".
  • Idiot Ball: Man of the people or not, it's most unwise for a King to tour the country without a real security detail. Unsurprisingly, FU quickly sees an angle and exploits this temerity.
    • Partly passed to the King by FU himself: Urquhart leaking Mycroft's sexuality to the press leads to the King's most trusted advisor being distracted and needlessly acquiescent with regard to the King's later awful decisions.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Patrick Woolton is described as a racist, but never says anything indicating this. He has an affair with Penny (a black woman) yet oddly it is Roger (her long-term partner) that appears to fetishise her race, not Woolton. The closest he comes to this is his jingoistic speech about doing diplomacy with the Russians with his guns on his person, which would be xenophobic, not racist.
    • In The Final Cut, Urquhart and other characters often hint that John Rayner is an extremely hostile racist, with at least one comment referencing the Ku Klux Klan. However, while we see how far to the right Rayner is during a cabinet meeting, he never openly exhibits racism throughout the miniseries.
    • In the same series, Tom Makepeace's oft-referred to sensitivity.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Often in the television series, Urquhart will predict what someone will do or say... and since he's a magnificent bastard, he's usually right. Sometimes the ironic echo is accompanied by Urquhart raising a knowing eyebrow to the camera.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: For a while, Urquhart's chats to the camera display his excuses to himself for why the morally questionable thing he just did was justified. Then he throws Mattie off a roof and gives it up, coldly admitting to us that it was purely about saving his own skin.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Even though he is assassinated at the end of the series, Urquhart never really gets punished for the murders of Roger O'Neill and Mattie Storin — the tape recording that Tom Makepeace planned to use against him becomes useless with his death. Even more so in the final book, in which Urquhart organises his own assassination so he can salvage his reputation by heroically saving his wife, and manages to set up the destruction of Tom Makepeace's political career in the process.
    • His wife, who has been his willing accomplice throughout the series, apparently escapes any repercussions.
  • Kavorka Man: Here is a piece of dialogue from the first episode.
    Mattie Storin: Urquhart’s leading the witch hunt. I do think he has a sort of — I don’t know — magnetism about him.
    Journalist colleague: Kissinger syndrome. The aphrodisiac effect of power.
    Mattie: I guess that must be it.
    • And then there is Sarah Harding in To Play the King, who feels suddenly compelled to tell Urquhart how much she doesn't want to end her marriage in the middle of their job interview.
  • Lady Macbeth: See The Man Behind the Man.
  • Legacy Seeker: In the third and final series, Urquhart becomes increasingly obsessed with making his mark on history. Initially, he wants nothing more than to beat Margaret Thatcher's record for days in office; then he sets out to reunify Cyprus - both for the publicity and in the hopes of winning offshore oil rights for Britain. It's at this point that Urqhart finally begins losing control over his government, however, and his efforts to maintain his grip only end up making things worse. The situation comes to a head when he deliberately triggers a disaster in Cyprus to arrange some Engineered Heroics - resulting in the deaths of several children and totaling his career in the process. Worse still, the crimes he committed to get this far are due to be exposed. In the end, Urquhart's wife takes steps to secure his legacy by having him assassinated, guaranteeing his reputation as a martyr, intimidating his blackmailers into silence... and allowing Urquhart to beat Thatcher's record by exactly one day.
  • MacGuffin:
    • The tape recording of Urquhart's confession.
    • In The Final Cut, Urquhart's report on his war crime in Cyprus.
  • The Man Behind the Man
    • While she does not get much screen time until the last series, one could very well argue that Elizabeth Urquhart is even nastier than her husband. She is the one who pushes him to topple the current prime Minister (from his own party) and in the third series, it is strongly implied that she had Urquhart assassinated in order to protect herself. (Although, she did seem motivated by her desire to salvage his reputation posthumously after Tom Makepeace threatened to publish the tape implicating Urquhart in the murder of Mattie Storin).
    • There seems to be quite a bit of this around. Patrick Woolton's wife also seems to be quite a bit tougher than expected.
  • May–December Romance: A distinctly creepy one between Urquhart (53 at the beginning of the series) and Mattie (23 or 24). She actually calls him "Daddy," and although he's clearly using her for his own ends, it seems both are into this whole father/daughter dynamic for their own, twisted reasons (although we never quite fully figure out what they are).
  • Meaningful Echo: Urquhart is galvanised to depose Collingridge when the PM passes him over for a higher post in the cabinet, explaining, "I need a good Chief Whip more than I need a new Home Secretary." In the second series, Urquhart's own chief whip and sidekick, Tim Stamper, decides to betray him: "But you promised me the Home Office!" Urquhart also acquires a new young, female protege with the same results.
  • Meet the New Boss: Corder is shown offering his services to Tom Makepeace after Urquhart's assassination.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Present and discussed with Stamper, who grows tired of being taken for granted as a glorified lackey of Urquhart.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Urquhart's reaction to killing Mattie. He has a look of shock while it happens, and is then shaken when speaking to the audience and seems atypically desperate to justify this act of murder — to himself. He has nightmares about it well before he learns the tape exists.
    • Series two features a more open realization of his needless assholery turning Stamper against him.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Angela Rippon in the first series.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The first story is set at an unspecified but close future date when Margaret Thatcher has resigned — even closer than the writer thought, as it turned out, as she resigned during the run of the first series. The second story is set in motion by the death of Queen Elizabeth.
    • Depending on the length of Collingridge's tenure in relation to the date of Thatcher's resignation, this would mean Urquhart's death takes place in 2001 or 2002. The Final Cut's 2001 Britain doesn't look at all different from 1995 Britain.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The King in the second serial is based on Prince Charles, with obvious stand-ins for Princess Diana and Prince William.
    • Benjamin Landless, the American proprietor of the corrupt right-leaning Chronicle tabloid shares a resemblance with Rupert Murdoch, the Australian proprietor of several corrupt right-leaning tabloids in Real Life, and Conrad Black, the Canadian-born former owner of The Daily Telegraph.
    • Booza-Pitt's style of dress is strongly evocative of Tory-turned-Brexiteer Neil Hamilton, who ended up losing his seat in 1997 due to being involved in the Cash for Questions scandal.
    • Tom Makepeace can come across as one for Michael Heseltine, who was Defence Secretary in Thatcher's Cabinet before resigning and who then worked to bring her down, finally bringing the leadership challenge against her that caused her to resign; he later served as Deputy PM under John Major. Even his hairstyle looks similar.
    • A rather odd example in the Health Secretary in the first series, Peter MacKenzie. Physically he looks very much like John Major, who at the time the series was being filmed was Chancellor of the Exchequer (though by the time it finished airing he was PM). However, apart from being a Conservative Cabinet member, he doesn't seem to have much in common with him, being racist and considered an idiot by Urquhart.
  • No Party Given: Never officially mentioned in the books, though in the series Urquhart is stated to belong to the Conservative Party.
    • Though, given that, even in the books, it's explicitly mentioned that Margaret Thatcher's party is still in power ("four straight wins") and given that, logically, to be the government whip, Francis must belong to said party, it's not exactly hard to put two and two together, assuming the Thatcher of the novel belonged to the same party as the one in our reality.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Geoffrey Booza-Pitt, who has a reputation as a harmless, somewhat buffoonish character, but is suggested to be much more clever than he looks. In the TV series he is undone by Urquhart's manipulations, but in the books he is able to get a position in the succeeding government.
    • Elizabeth Urquhart — when talking to the chairman of the Cyprus border arbitration panel she pretends to be dim so she can accidentally-on-purpose let slip some very sensitive information.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Kenny Ireland as Benjamin Landless meanders between his native Scottish accent and various American accents, with Chicago seemingly being his intent.
    • Miles Anderson, who plays Roger O'Neill, is pretty clearly not Irish.
  • Old Media Are Evil: The newspaper Mattie works for at the start of the first series is corrupt and firmly in bed with the Conservative Party, having tied their fate to that of Henry Collingridge when they helped him get elected at the start of the series. Mattie finds out the hard way, when a story she writes (thanks to leaked material provided to her by Urquhart) is spiked because it would harm Collingridge. And when she finds proof that Collingridge and his brother were framed by someone within their party, the editor (now backing Urquhart in the upcoming special election to replace Collingridge) not only spikes the story, but permanently reassigns Mattie to the humiliating task of writing the "cooking" section of the paper and tells her, point-blank, that if she quits, they will exercise her "no-compete" clause to keep her from finding work as a reporter for three months.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Urquhart is a Prime Minister Corrupt.
  • Playing Both Sides: Clare Carlsen in The Final Cut, knowing that the leadership issue will come to a head, becomes Urquhart's private secretary, but maintains her close contact with Tom Makepeace (her lover), divulging information about one to the other with abandon. Her plan, which Booza-Pitt implies involves her becoming the succeeding PM of either, fails after the Cyprus massacre gives Makepeace a clear route to victory and forces him to disown her. In the book, she becomes a minister in the government formed in the wake of Urquhart's assassination.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Urquhart himself, at least in the novel, is portrayed as casually dismissive of foreigners. For example, he almost immediately identifies an Indian-born constituent as trouble note , and he is mentioned as having campaigned against foreign students taking away British university spots in the past. He also mocks the Jewish MP Samuels as a "latter-day Disraeli".
    • Urquhart in the series is a murkier matter. He denounces Patrick Woolton as a racist and anti-Semite during his narration in the first series, but dismissively refers to the King's personal assistant as "the black girl" in the second series — although as he says this during a confrontation with the King, it is unclear whether he means it or is just trying to get a rise out of the King.
  • Posthumous Character: Mattie Storin continues to haunt the plot long after they've died. Sarah Harding and Tim Stamper, on the other hand...
  • Propping Up Their Patsy: Prime Minister Henry Collingridge falls under scrutiny when his brother Charlie is believed to have taken advantage of classified information to trade shares in a company about to benefit from government decisions, making Henry guilty of insider trading (as his brother's only feasible source of info). Throughout the whole scandal, chief whip Francis Urquhart is Henry's strongest supporter and defender, advising him on how to handle the press and helping him to get Charlie away from the press. Of course, as Urquhart is a shameless Villain Protagonist, the audience already knows that he was the one who bought the shares in Charlie's name for the sake of creating a scandal that would dethrone Henry. Sure enough, Henry is forced to resign disgracefully, but not before thanking Urquhart for his undying support - leaving the Machiavellian schemer to move easily onto the next stage of his plan without earning a hint of suspicion.
  • Psycho for Hire: Commander Corder, Urquhart's intensely loyal bodyguard, does not think of his victims as human beings, and is willing to kill anyone who threatens the PM and his reputation, including Urquhart himself.
    • When three yobs run Urquhart's car off the road (not knowing it's Urquhart's) and then get out of their own vehicle looking for a fight, Corder's subordinate shoots one of them dead, wrongly (but honestly) thinking he has a gun. He immediately realises his mistake and it's obvious that the other two are no threat - but Corder shoots them in cold blood anyway.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Francis delivers one to the King and his intentions to run against the PM.
    FU: I wouldn't bet on it, sir. I'm afraid you won't be of much interest as a commoner. I doubt if anyone will be particularly interested in what you have to say. You have no constituency, you see. No power base. You represent nothing but one talentless, discredited family. And very soon, you won't represent even that. You will represent nothing. You will mean nothing. You will be nothing.
  • Red-Flag Recreation Material: Francis Urquhart is a fan of Shakespeare's darker plays, most prominently Macbeth and Richard III, taking great delight in quoting from them before enacting another masterful act of treachery or murdering associates who have outlived their usefulness.
  • Relieved Failure: Prime Minister Henry Collingridge is forced to step down from his position after barely a few months in office, having been undermined in a series of scandals engineered by Urquhart. Though Henry has fought valiantly to clear his name from all accusations and is visibly crestfallen at his defeat, he's secretly relieved to be out of his joyless tenure as PM - to the point of privately breaking down in tears and admitting that he's glad he doesn't have to "fight those bastards anymore."
  • Resigned in Disgrace:
    • The first half of the first season is concerned with Francis Urquhart's efforts to force Prime Minister Henry Collingridge out of office by engineering a series of humiliating scandals - the last of which results in Henry's brother Charles being accused of insider trading, with the PM being considered complicit as a result. Worn down by weeks of uninterrupted shame, Henry resigns from his post, allowing Urquhart and the other ministers to begin jockeying for his position... but not before Urquhart leaks the news of his resignation to the media ahead of Henry's planned announcement, leaving the ex-PM unable to take the dignified exit he'd hoped for.
    • In The Final Cut, F.U. himself begins facing near-unanimous calls for him to resign as Prime Minister after an incident in Cyprus ends with his orders to the army directly resulting in the deaths of several children. Plus, his own dirty dealings throughout the show are due to be revealed to the public. However, he never gets that far: his wife has him assassinated in order to save his reputation and her retirement fund.
    • One of Urquhart's last machinations is seeded early in The Final Cut, in which he confronts Geoffrey Booza-Pitt over a potentially humiliating impropriety and orders him to sign a resignation letter detailing his offence... which he then explains he will not accept, but will rather keep in his desk, to be used in the event that Geoffrey slips up again. When Urquhart's own position becomes untenable and Geoffrey attempts to salvage his own career by fleeing the sinking ship, he goes to Urquhart to hand in his resignation letter... only for Urquhart to remind him with a smirk that Urquhart already has his resignation letter.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Deconstructed.
    • The King in To Play The King clearly aspires to this, and bends the conventions that traditionally bind the monarch in the Westminster system to their breaking point. This quickly puts him at odds with Urquhart, who while opposing the King for his own venal interests, does point out that there's a very good reason why Royals Who Actually Do Something by dabbling in politics is not a good idea, since it compromises the people's elected government.
    • In the novel, the King abdicates on his own discretion and announces that he will stand for parliament and oppose Urquhart as a democratically elected MP. However, thanks to retcons between books, this isn't mentioned in the final part of the trilogy. The series two finale has Urquhart explaining why this is a bad idea, once again. See "The Reason You Suck" Speech above.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story
    • The B-plot in The Final Cut involves an aging Cypriot named Evangelos Passolides trying to get into a position to assassinate Urquhart and avenge his brothers, who were executed illegally by Urquhart during his time as an army officer stationed in Cyprus. In the final scene of the series, he steps out of a crowd to take his shot at the PM just as Urquhart is assassinated by a completely unrelated gunman. Also counts as Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
    • Mattie's story. Not just the story she's compiling, but her story as in her role on the series.
  • Shoot the Dog: Quite literally, at the beginning of The Final Cut, explained as one of Urquhart's moments of tough pragmatism. Ironically, this happens to Urquhart himself in the end.
  • Significant Monogram: Francis Urquhart. Quickly noticed by the tabloid papers in-universe.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Urquhart himself, who kills himself at the end of the original novel when Maddie confronts him with the evidence of his crimes; in the adaptation, of course, he kills her and gets away with it. This seems to be a trend, as the next novel, To Play the King, ends with the King forcing Urquhart out of office, only for the reverse to be the case in the adaptation.
  • The Starscream: Tim Stamper. Possibly also a dragon to Urquhart.
  • Strawman Political: Generally averted in the TV series, as policy tends not to be nearly as important a concern to Urquhart and his opponents as power. Every character who expresses strong views is always allowed to justify them, and any such character portrayed negatively (such as Patrick Woolton) is simply shown as a generally unpleasant individual.
  • Taken During the Ending: At the end of the first series, after Urquhart has thrown Mattie to her death, an unknown person picks up the tape recorder on which, unknown to Urquhart, she was recording their conversation.
  • Thanatos Gambit
    • In the novel, Urquhart arranges his own death so he can appear to die heroically shielding his wife from an assassin's bullet while organising events to strike at Makepeace from beyond the grave and destroy his political career, ensuring his legacy in the process.
    • In the series, Elizabeth Urquhart organises Urquhart's death with Corder's help in order to save his reputation, which had been torn to shreds by a botched military operation in Cyprus resulting in the deaths of several children, along with several impending scandals.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Mr and Mrs Urquhart.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Geoffrey Booza-Pitt, a minor cabinet minister and staunch Urquhart loyalist who is promoted to Foreign Secretary to humiliate the outgoing office-holder (Urquhart's rival) Tom Makepeace.
  • Victory Is Boring: FU spends the second and third seasons constantly feeling the need to stir up trouble just so he can have something to do.
  • Villain Protagonist With Good Publicity: Urquhart - he becomes prime minister after all, and remains so longer than Margaret Thatcher. One day longer.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Urquhart states to the audience and the King himself that the reason he destroys the King and demands his abdication is not out of personal hate but because he feels the King is threatening the constitutional monarchy. It's unclear if this is his real motive or just a lie he tells to justify his actions.
  • What's Up, King Dude?:
    • Invoked, quite literally, in To Play The King - The King decides to embark on a meet'n'greet tour through Britain without his security detail (to manifest his reputation as a 'people's monarch' and to build popular support against PM Urquhart). Urquhart, in return, exploits this by arranging a 'summer theatre' in which the King gets 'kidnapped' by a group of paid thugs and then be 'rescued' by the British Army at Urquhart's behest, making him look like a hero and the King look reckless and naive.
    • Played straight in The Final Cut - Urquharts own limousine is rammed off the motorway by some random trio of drunken punks in a minibus who are looking for a fight (but probably didn't realise whose limousine they just hit). Then subverted in that they're promptly shot dead by Urquhart's own bodyguards as 'terrorists'. At the time, this seemed more excessive than it does now.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: Subverted in To Play the King. Mycroft gets mugged outside a straight bar with thumping techno music and scary patrons, but then, in search of help, he ends up wandering into a very nice members' club where the people are friendly and Somewhere Over the Rainbow is playing in the background.
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Francis Urquhart quotes Shakespeare and receives a gift of his favourite book, The Prince, in The Final Cut.
    • Elizabeth Urquhart enjoys Wagner in the evenings. Wordof St Paul is that her knowledge is "encyclopaedic".
  • You Bastard!: Urquhart's Aside Comments to the camera help implicate the audience in his schemes; even though everything he's doing brings him a hop, skip and jump towards the Moral Event Horizon (from whichever side of the line is up to the viewer to interpret), he's so seductive and charming that the viewer can't help but want him to succeed. And he knows this all too well.
    • This reaches its climax in the The Final Cut, when Urquhart breaks the fourth wall to rationalize a massacre of Cypriot schoolgirls by his conscripted troops:
    Urquhart: You want a strong leader who is not afraid to act. You chose me. Whatever I do, whatever is done in my name, you partake of it.
  • You Monster!: The King calls FU a monster in the Series 2 finale. Notably Urquhart doesn't actually deny it. He simply says "your opinion doesn't matter anymore."
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Many examples. At the end, even FU outlives his usefulness to the establishment.