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You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment.
~ Urquhart's catchphrase

Francis Urquhart is the protagonist villain of Michael Dobbs' novel House of Cards, and its two sequels, To Play the King and The Final Cut. All three books were made into BBC TV miniseries. An American version of the character, Frank Underwood, was introduced in the American version of House of Cards. He is well-known for breaking the Fourth Wall and addressing the audience directly.

He was portrayed by the late Ian Richardson, who also played Kralahome in Warner Brothers' The King and I, and Chancellor Hyena in The Jungle King by Golden Films.

Character Overview

Urquhart is a British politician, the Chief Whip of the Conservative Party in the UK Parliament. He is a Machiavellian political schemer and completely ruthless, willing to go to any lengths, even murder, to see that his intricate schemes pay off. He is from an aristocratic family, and secured his fortunes by marrying Elizabeth, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. A self-described "old-fashioned, no-nonsense Tory", he despises youth culture and the welfare state, believes in compulsory national service, and dismisses the poor as "layabouts" and "lazy people".

He is well-known for his catchphrase "You may very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment," which he uses as a deniable way of leaking information or letting someone know what he really thinks without saying it outright. He is also fond of quoting from Shakespeare, having been a scholar of Elizabethan poetry and verse during his youth; his character is often compared to Richard III and Macbeth.

The first novel revealed that he suffered several personal tragedies as a young man: his brother was killed in World War II, his father committed suicide, and his mother cut him off after he decided to go into politics rather than maintain the family estate.

History

In House of Cards

In the first miniseries, Urquhart is denied a coveted political post by the new Prime Minister, Henry Collingridge. Angered and insulted by the snub, Urquhart begins plotting to destroy Collingridge and take his place as Prime Minister. To that end, he begins a sexual relationship with journalist Mattie Storin (with the full knowledge and consent of his wife) so he can anonymously leak damaging stories about Collingridge's administration, and intimidates the part's drug-addicted Press Secretary Roger O'Neill into circulating rumors about Collingridge and his family. He then impersonates Collingridge's brother and makes several illegal stock trades. When the story becomes public, thanks in part to Mattie, Collingridge is forced to resign.

Urquhart then systematically eliminates his competitors for Prime Minister through blackmail, extortion and murder. He puts rat poison in O'Neill's cocaine so O'Neill can't testify against him, and reluctantly pushes Mattie off a roof when she discovers the extent of his crimes; he makes her death look like suicide. He is then appointed Prime Minister.

In To Play the King

Now into his second term as Prime Minister, Urquhart faces a new challenge in the newly crowned King of England, a political idealist who opposes Urquhart's right-wing agenda. Determined to get rid of this threat, Urquhart befriends the King's estranged wife and learns of the Royal Family's many skeletons, which he anonymously leaks to the press. The King tries to unseat Urquhart by campaigning for the Opposition Party in the general election, but Urquhart and his party win, depriving the King of a power base with which to challenge the Government. Urquhart forces him to abdicate his throne, leaving the King's weak, naive son next in line, all but certain to fall under Urquhart's control.

Meanwhile, Urquhart's right hand man Tim Stamper, who helped him scheme and murder his way into power, feels that his boss has gone back on his promises to reward him, and begins scheming against him. He acquires a tape recording that proves Urquhart murdered Mattie, and plans to go to the police with it. He also tells Urquhart's aide and lover Sarah Harding about what Urquhart has done. Upon learning of their treachery, Urquhart arranges for both of them to die in car bombings, which are publicly blamed on the IRA. Unbeknownst to him, however, the tape recording survives.

In The Final Cut

In the final miniseries, Urquhart has grown unpopular with the public, and becomes obsessed with securing a legacy and beating Margaret Thatcher's record as longest-serving prime minister. He decides to reunite Cyprus, angering his chief political rival, Tom Makepeace, who decides to run against him for Prime Minister. Urquhart decides to show his strength by ordering a military raid to stop a wave of protests, but the raid goes awry and ends with the deaths of several civilians, including children. The ensuing public outcry all but ensures that Urquhart will lose the election.

Urquhart's problems worsen when a young woman from Cyprus uncovers evidence that Urquhart shot her uncles in cold blood while serving during the Cypriot civil war of 1956. She gives that evidence to Makepeace, who also uncovers the tape of Mattie's murder.

During a public unveiling of a memorial statue of Margaret Thatcher, Urquhart is shot and mortally wounded by an assassin working for his wife, Elizabeth. She goes to his side and tells him that, had he lived, he would have fallen out of power and gone to prison; as a martyr, however, his crimes will go unpunished and his legacy will be assured. He gasps, "Elizabeth..." and dies - and ends up beating Thatcher's record of longevity by one day.

Trivia

  • Michael Dobbs' starting point for the creation of Urquhart were the initials "F.U.," having been inspired to create a character whose name literally meant "fuck you" following a less-than-pleasant encounter with Margaret Thatcher. In the series, British newspapers take notice of the distinctive initials and make use of them throughout Urquhart's time as Prime Minister, announcing the reassignment of his Environment Minister with the headline of "FU DICK." Later, when Urquhart's popularity evaporates entirely, the headlines simply read "F OFF FU."
  • The original version of Dobbs' novel House of Cards features a radically different ending: Urquhart commits suicide after Mattie exposes his crimes. The popularity of the first miniseries motivated Dobbs to rewrite the novel's ending.
  • Urquhart's catchphrase - "You may very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment" - has made its way into the lexicon in the UK, to the point that it is sometimes used in the Houses of Parliament.
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