House of Cards (and the Top 10 Badass Political Operators on Screen)
This week sees the UK DVD & Blu-Ray release of House of Cards, the first in a series of original programming ventures of online video streaming service Netflix and their most successful to date.
Starring Kevin Spacey as the ruthless politician Francis Underwood, a Congressman with an equally unscrupulous wife named Robin, House of Cards details his rise through the ranks of political power in Washington D.C. On some levels, Francis is a familiar character in his seemingly unending thirst for power, but what makes House of Cards really juicy is that the Congressman is equally as motivated by a thirst for exacting revenge on those who have wronged him. This vindictive streak which Francis shares with his wife is what makes him a truly entertaining character. Make no mistake here, Underwood is a nasty piece of work, a proper screen villain.
Landing Spacey for the series was considered something of a coup for Netflix and the show has received considerable critical acclaim for its gritty, warts-and-all portrayal of the underbelly of American politics. It’s more realistic than many of those in the corridors of power at the Capitol would like to admit. Creator Beau Willimon has has employed some major writing and directing talents with the likes of David Fincher and Joel Schumacher putting in shifts in the director’s chair, but the real star of the show is Spacey as Underwood. He is a full-blown political animal that never forgets a grudge and never misses an opportunity to exploit.
So impressed were we by his villainous ways we’ve drawn up a list of the Top 10 badass political operators to appear on our screen. Some are fictional, some are real, but all of them are to be feared and respected...
10. Bob Roberts
(from Bob Roberts)
Tim Robbins’ directorial debut features one of the most evil politicians ever committed to celluloid in Bob Roberts. He’s the man who tries to be everything at once - he’s a folk singer with some hardline right-wing views who runs a bent election campaign to scam his way into the corridors of power, and only one journalist seems to smell a rat. Targeting the increasingly circus-like media campaigns in modern American politics, it’s an impressive debut in the director’s chair for Robbins and he excels as the smarmy, nasty politician in the lead role.
9. Selina Myer
An Armando Ianucci creation, Veep takes the format of The Thick of It and transplants the action to the U.S., where Selina Myer is Vice President. Played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Ianucci has stated that Myer is not based on anyone in particular and while it would be easy to compare her to Sarah Palin, particularly the ineptitude department, there’s a lot more to the character than this. Ambitious, vulgar, foul-mouthed and with her sights firmly set on the presidency, Myer is one of the most colourful depictions of women in politics to hit our screens.
8. Sir Humphrey Appleby
(from Yes, Minister)
If there was ever the perfect on-screen portrayal of the sneaky, underhanded British politician then it’s Nigel Hawthorne’s as Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister and later Yes, Prime Minister. He my not be the one officially holding the reins of power but you are left in no doubt that he is pulling all the strings, merely using his lack of official place of authority as means to deflect the blame when one of his many schemes goes awry.
7. President Greg Stillson
(from The Dead Zone)
Now, many of you have probably already scanned through this list and noticed the absence of long-running political drama The West Wing, but that’s not because we didn’t think Martin Sheen deserves to be here, it’s just that we didn’t want to put him on the list twice and, given the choice between Josiah Bartlett and Greg Stillson, it’s got to be Stillson hands down. Is he evil? Maybe. Is he insane? Probably. Is he a badass? Most definitely.
6. Margaret Thatcher
(from The Iron Lady)
Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that Margaret Thatcher was kind of a badass. The first and, as it stands, only female politician to assume the highest office in the UK, Meryl Streep’s portrayal in The Iron Lady does attempt to show her softer side, but even then what stands out is her commitment to her career above all else, especially her family, and although sympathetic it isn’t exactly heart-warming. But, for better or for worse, nobody could argue that her single-mindedness changed the face of Britain forever.
5. Alan B'Stard
(from The New Statesman)
The sad departure of one of our greatest comic talents in recent generations, Rik Mayall, last week was a timely reminder of one of his greatest characters, the ruthless Tory politician aptly given the moniker Alan B’Stard. Greedy, selfish and very, very funny, B’Stard was the antidote to the much-maligned Thatcher government of the 1980s and perfectly sent up the era’s Sloane Ranger politicians and Yuppie, backstabbing career-ladder-climbers. A classic creation from a man whose larger-than-life personality will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Rik…
4. Harvey Milk
As if to show that not every politician is motivated by greed and a thirst for power, Harvey Milk is a breath of fresh air on a list otherwise almost exclusively populated by rotters. Sean Penn’s portrayal as the openly gay politician that did more to change political attitudes toward homosexuality in American politics than anyone before or perhaps since, Harvey Milk fought against disgusting levels of persecution and shows that you don’t have to be a bad person to be a badass.
3. Malcolm X
(from Malcolm X)
One of the most important figures in the struggle for human rights and equality for African-Americans during the 1960s, along with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X’s assassination shows just how much his influence terrified those in power and those who wanted to keep the status quo. A hugely important cultural figure and definitely one of the most badass political operators of all time.
2. Malcolm Tucker
(from The Thick of It)
The Scottish firebrand spin guru at the right-hand of the Prime Minister in Armando Ianucci’s biting political satire The Thick of It has to be one of the most fearsome and skilled political operators we’ve seen on our screens and although he isn’t really a politician, don’t let that fool you into thinking he isn’t powerful. Often wielding more control in government than the hapless politicians he regularly nails to the wall, Tucker is as ruthless as they come.
1. Senator Palpatine
(from Star Wars)
How could we have anybody at the top of this list but Senator Palpatine - or should that be Darth Sidious - the politician and Sith lord that scams the entire intergalactic federation into giving him the reins of power, only to break his promise not to hang on to them indefinitely. The only politician on this list to have engineered an interplanetary civil war to get his way, and the only one who can move objects with his mind and shoot bolts of electricity from his fingertips, Palpatine is rotten to the core and is certainly the most evil political operator we've ever seen on screen.