The success of the US version of House of Cards has led to some interest in the UK version.
The point of this post is not to compare differences between versions of the show, but rather to help people who may not be familiar with UK politics get around some of the terms. This is in no way meant to imply that anyone who isn’t familiar with UK politics is stupid, and I’m sorry if some of the material seems obvious, it’s impossible to tell what other people do and don’t know. Also remember that I’m not expert of UK politics, just an Australian who watched a lot of Yes, Minster growing up.
The House of Cards trilogy comprised of 3 series, each with 4 episodes: House of Cards, To Play the King, and The Final Cut. Yes, 12 episodes in total, 1 less than the first season of House of Cards which tells the same story as most of the first UK series. Each series was based on a different novel by Michael Dobs (although the later novels were heavily influenced by the House of Cards series.) As Season 1 of the US series finishes before the resolution of the UK version of House of Cards, it may (assuming on what the makers of the US series do) contain spoilers for Season 2.
[Update: Early in Season 2 the US version covers off the remains of House of Cards. The rest of Season 2 understandably goes in a different direction to To Play the King, but whether Season 3 will use anything from it remains to be seen.]
In the UK version, Francis Urquhart is a Tory – a member of the Conservative Party – rather than a Democrat like the Francis Underwood in the US version. (Yes, I know that this is a difference between the shows but watching the US series I kept having to remind myself that they’d changed sides of the political spectrum.)
In the US the President is Head of Government and Head of State. In the UK the Prime Minister is the Head of Government but the Monarch is Head of State (although just a figurehead). While the distinction is unimportant for the UK version of House of Cards, it is the point of To Play King. Like the Majority Leader in the US, the Prime Minster chosen by the majority party from its elected members. (This makes To Play the King difficult to replicate in a US setting and may lead to significant changes).
In the UK, the cabinet is chosen by the Prime Minster from the elected Members of Parliament. Unlike in the US, no one else needs to confirm appointments (although, since the party picks the PM the PM’s choices may be influenced by the party.) The junior cabinet position the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury is held by the Chief Whip to allow him to attend Cabinet meetings.
10 Downing Street is the official residence of the Prime Minster of the UK. It is often referred to as Number 10 or Downing Street. Just like The White House can be used as a euphemism for the President and his staff, Number 10 and Downing Street can refer to the Prime Minster.
Westminster, or more formerly the Palace of Westminster and commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament is the place where both houses of parliament sit and as such is basically the UK version of the Capitol Building.
The House of Commons is the lower house in a bicameral system, like the US House of Representatives. The House of Lords is the upper house, like the US Senate, however they are appointed rather than elected. Twenty six are bishops appointed by the Church of England, the rest (around 755 at the moment) are hereditary and life peers appointed by the Monarch on advice from the Prime Minster.
The writer of the novels upon which both series are (at least partially) based, Michael Dobbs, worked for the Conservative Party and considered a masterful political operator, who the Guardian newspaper called “Westminister’s baby-faced hitman” . Dobbs says that the inspiration for the main character came after a tense meeting with Margaret Thatcher.
The UK version is set after the end of Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. Her time as the PM actually ended 28 November 1990 (Ten days after the first episode of House of Cards was broadcast.) In The Final Cut her death is a plot point, something that did not happen until 2013. Thatcher, herself, was a personally unpopular leader with ultra-conservative policies but lead the UK for 11 years (1979 – 1990) and three elections, gaining some support during the Falklands War.
The new king in To Play King the King is unnamed but has a strong liberal agenda much like that of Prince Charles. As a unelected figurehead Head of State in a democratic country, Queen Elisabeth II has been careful during her reign not to get involved in politics.
As stated, I’m no expert on these matters. Please feel free to point out any errors. Also anything that I missed that you feel should have been covered, don’t be afraid to mention that either.