There is nothing new under the sun, just updates. Kevin Spacey's performance as Frank Underwood, in House of Cards seems as fresh as anything out there, but as you're probably aware it's a performance based heavily on the one given by the original star of the original series, the late great Scottish actor Ian Richardson.
I've have mixed success watching other versions of the same shows. I bought a DVD copy (those words seem strangely old-fashioned now, like making a mix tape or fondue) of the Danish series The Killing, but lent it a friend and got stuck into the American remake in the meantime. I liked the American version and found it hard going back over the same ground. I did manage to crack back into series two and three of the Scandi-noir, but I was partially ruined. The Tunnel, which just finished a run on SoHo, lacked a little of what made the original Bron/Broen aka The Bridge so good (most notably the title song), but it more than made up for it with brilliant casting, acting and some subtle script tweaking.
While The Bridge was focused on a murder on the boarder of Denmark and Sweden - The Tunnel is on the UK/France border, which is in the middle of the Channel Tunnel. I tuned in thinking I would see a few episodes but stayed with it, even coming to the conclusion that it improved in many ways on the original - something a recent US remake, set on the Mexican border, failed miserably to do. (BTW I've sent a proposal to TVNZ for a remake called Ladies Mile involving the Remuera and Mt Wellington border, but haven't heard anything back.)
There's no such issue with going back to the original UK version of House of Cards as I did last weekend; it slipped down like something slippery and pleasurable. This time I did not buy a DVD; I found it online, but there are DVDs out there on Ebay and the like. I have a vague memory of watching it as a kid, but was worried it may not have held up. I was wrong, and thanks to an interview with the author on Kathryn Ryan's RNZ National show, I now know why it was - and remains - so good.
Despite the 26-year gap, and change of country and political system, the story remains basically the same in both UK and US iterations, both based on the book of the same name by former Thatcher administration insider, Michael Dobbs.
Dobbs sat down with a bottle of wine to write the book in 1989 "after a blazing row" with Thatcher in which he was dealt "a verbal hand-bagging". It was a furious attack that took place while Dobbs was in the room with five cabinet ministers, "who had the good sense to duck". He was duly sacked by Maggie, and decided to write a book inspired by the shenanigans he'd seen and been involved in. As he told Ryan, "All of the wickedness you see on House Of Cards, I'd seen or even been responsible for". No wonder the Guardian once referred to him as "Westminster's baby-faced hit man".
Dobbs had been approached by other Americans keen on a remake who all turned out to be the usual tyre-kickers. His ears, however, pricking up when the most recent, and ultimately successful company, started dropping names like Fincher and Spacey.
While the original works less well as binger - the story feels rushed in comparison - it still makes for a great watch. The same key ingredient - breaking the fourth wall, turning to the camera and involving the viewer in the conspiracy - remains, as does the cut throat Machiavelli-ness of it all, but the differences are also interesting. Women are less prominent in the old version, there's not texting and the sex is a little more vanilla. And while you might very well think that Ian Richardson's Francis Urquhart pisses all over Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood, I couldn't possibly comment.
* House of Cards. TV3, Sundays 10.30pm