Unusual bedfellows make for great TV

Kevin Spacey returns in 'House of Cards' on Netflix this Friday

Modern American politics and 1950s’ Ireland might not be the most obvious of bedfellows, but TV viewers will discover over the next few days that these seemingly diverse settings have much in common.

Season two of House of Cards on Netflix, and the inaugural run of an adaptation of the Quirke novels by Benjamin Black (John Banville) on RTÉ, are both laden with the darkness, lies and conspiracies of the worlds they inhabit.

For every conniving politician in Washington, there’s a ruthless cleric or self-serving medic in Dublin. And these people’s actions inevitably bring suffering on others. “I’ve never expected much from this world. It’s ugly, not a fair place,” says Rachel Posner, a former prostitute caught up in some of the dodgy deeds of House of Cards. She could just as easily have been speaking through the bars of the Magdalene laundry Gabriel Byrne’s character visits in the first episode of Quirke.

In fact, the Dublin pathologist with a tendency towards detective work is an almost refreshingly morose creation, given what we now know about what happened in our not too distant past. There’s no dancing at the crossroads in this series, and it has become entirely believable that the self-righteous nun is at the centre of an international baby-dealing business.

Quirke’s three 90-minute episodes are a co-production between RTÉ and the BBC, and were adapted by Irish playwright/director Conor McPherson and Welsh screenwriter Andrew Davies, a TV veteran with experience on period dramas such as Vanity Fair, and whose early credits also include work on the original House of Cards in 1990. The cast also includes Michael Gambon and Stanley Townsend. Christine Falls, the first of the Benjamin Black books, opens the mini-series, followed by The Silver Swan and Elegy for April.

Byrne, currently in Chile making a film on the trapped miners, believes there’s an important lesson to be learned from the series. “I would like people to come away with more of an understanding of the notion that what’s hidden and secret produces sickness in the end,” he says.

These are words that could easily be applied to House of Cards, a show whose cynical view of the world has been somewhat overshadowed by its non-appearance on terrestrial TV. Netflix took a $100m gamble and its subscriber base has swelled on the back of a hugely enjoyable first series. From Friday morning, all 13 episodes will be available for a romance-killing Valentine’s Day binge, and a third series has been given the green light.

As main character Frank Underwood is fond of saying, let the games begin.

* House of Cards series two, Netflix, from Friday; Quirke, RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm.


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